Welcome Sophia into the BTfL Fold

I am pleased to introduce myself as the new Project Manager working with Birmingham Trees for Life. I was excited by the opportunity to undertake a role where I could make a positive difference and actively be part of tree planting in my own city of Birmingham. Coming from a local authority background and more recently working in the voluntary sector I hope the range of skills and experience I bring to the role will benefit the organisation, its supporters and the local community as well as the environment.

Adult life can be very demanding, challenging and in some cases stressful but I found that taking time out to walk through the woods, appreciate the trees and reconnect with nature helped me to reduce my anxiety and stress levels and became an essential coping tool for me in everyday life, enabling me to function more efficiently by regularly taking time out to enjoy nature. I don’t know what I would do now without regular walks in the woods or forest and feel this is an experience everyone should get to enjoy. Of course there is so much more to tree planting and the essential benefits of trees but I thought I would share with you just one of the reasons I am so passionate about planting and protecting trees, particularly in more urbanised areas where there are typically less green spaces for communities to enjoy.

I have learned so much already from the team and Committee members but look forward to learning lots more. It is woeful that our usual planting season is interrupted due to covid-19 and government restrictions but we won’t let this stop us and look forward to delivering some alternative activities for this planting season whilst we still hope to make it possible to do some planting towards the end of the season. I look forward to meeting our regular friends and sponsors as well as meeting new communities and volunteers when possible.      

Goodbye and good luck BTFL!

Well this is my last week at BTFL and I have handed over the role of Project Manager to Sophia.  After 12 years, 8 of them as Project Manager, it seems very strange to be signing off.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time working for BTFL and have had a lot of fun planting trees with so many different people all over Birmingham.  As Justine’s last blog post said, it’s been a varied role – everything from digging holes to speaking at Council Scrutiny meetings, from doing financial spreadsheets to showing children how to use a spade, and all things in between!  I was very touched by all the lovely comments from friends, colleagues and supporters I have worked with over the years – thank you.

BTFL operates as a very lean project with just 3 part time paid freelance members of the team to organise everything – thanks to my colleagues Justine and Debbie, and previously Jane E and Sue for the great teamwork and mutual support.  I would like to thank all the volunteer Committee members who have supported us over the years with their time and expertise, and I am forever grateful too to Simon Needle for all his tireless good humoured help with all our planting logistics and liaison with the Council.  Our Chairman Geoff Cole is a massive champion for trees in this city, and we couldn’t have done all this without him.  Thanks too to all the lovely lads in the Woodland Management Team who have never let us down, and to our friends and colleagues in the Parks Department.  Too many other people to mention everyone, but special appreciation to Deutsche Bank Birmingham’s Green Team and Andrew Marshall at HSBC UK – it’s been a real pleasure working with you.

My last season planting trees was not able to be completed unfortunately due to lockdown in March, and our meetings since have been ‘virtual’, so it’s been a bit of a strange end to my 12 years, and not what I would have liked, but I hope to haunt BTFL for a little longer yet by volunteering at one or two planting events this autumn where I might see people for real (Covid restrictions permitting of course)!

So it’s time to hand over the reins, good luck to Sophia, Debbie and Justine this season, and I’m sure the project will continue to do wonderful things for trees and people in Birmingham!

Over 90,000 trees and counting….

I’ve been very lucky to have enjoyed such a great role and I hope I leave behind a small green legacy in the city which has been my home for 35 years.

So thank you again everyone, and farewell!

Love from Jane xxx

Goodbye Jane – thank you and good luck!

76170 trees planted!

Working with 9500 volunteers!

Overseeing 300 tree planting events!

Not everyone can boast numbers like that and we wouldn’t normally publicise Jane’s vital statistics – but these are Jane’s BTfL vital statistics and are quite amazing!

   

Jane Harding has worked as Project Manager and dedicated tree hugger at BTfL for the last 12-years and it’s a wonderful legacy Jane should be proud of.

Jane’s hard work and passion for trees will live on for decades to come as we enjoy all the trees Jane has been involved with planting. If you live in Birmingham and you use your park we can guarantee that you will pass trees, sit under trees and enjoy trees that Jane has helped plant.

Jane’s passion for trees is a driving force that has seen Jane knee deep in mud, fighting off  gale force winds and battling through snow blizzards! But no one said this was a glamorous role. Rewarding, insightful, fun, dynamic, energetic and holistic are just a few of the things this role brings with it and working for a project like BTfL needs organisation, creativity, reliability and a sense of humour – all of which Jane has in bucket loads.

Jane has put her heart and soul into her role as Project Manager at BTfL and it’s with a heavy heart we say goodbye as Jane takes early retirement and goes on to pastures new. No doubt those pastures will be full of trees!

Here are a few words from Jane: ‘Over the years this role has seen me be a planter, teacher, writer, ‘sheep dog’, organiser, bookkeeper, photographer, spokeswoman, campaigner and minute taker, to name but a few, all in the name of trees.

‘Working with BTFL has always presented plenty of variety – not least in the unpredictable weather! Planting in the winter, when the trees are dormant, means working in bright sunshine, pouring rain, freezing sleet and falling snow, knee deep in mud or trying to dig rock hard ground. Never let it be said that we tree planters are not a hardy breed! ‘Running around on site keeping an eye on how our schoolchildren and adult volunteers are doing has certainly kept me fit! There have been many highlights over the years; herding 153 children at Perry Common Rec.

 

‘So many of the children we meet have a good knowledge of what trees do for us and why they matter, so I leave BTFL hoping that my small contribution in helping them get first-hand experience of planting trees will stand them in good stead as future custodians of our planet. I will certainly miss seeing the children’s excitement, which never fails to warm the heart at our events.

‘Building a long-term relationship with Deutsche Bank Birmingham’s Green Team, launching the partnership with the Woodland Trust at Cofton with over 150 volunteer planters, working with a great team, and being a part of the drive to make trees a central strand of Birmingham’s strategy to create a liveable city. It has been particularly satisfying to plant trees in some of the more barren areas of the city, and to give so many children (and grown-ups!) the opportunity to experience the joys of trees and nature.

   

‘It’s a lovely thing to show someone how to plant a tree for the first time and see them take so much pleasure in it. I hope I leave behind just a small contribution to the city which has been my home for 35 years, my ‘green legacy’, which will have an impact for many more years to come. It’s been fun, and very rewarding, and I shall miss it all! Bye!

 

Jane’s drive, dedication and vision, not to mention her smiles and warmth will be sadly missed and here are some good luck messages celebrating Jane’s legacy at BTfL.

Our Chairman Geoff Cole says: ‘We say goodbye to our Project Manager, Jane Harding this summer. Jane has been with us for 12 years, with 8 of those years as Project Manager. She has been the “backbone” of BTFL during her time, quietly and efficiently managing the project and keeping us all in order. We hope she is immensely proud of her achievements,

and in recognition of her outstanding service, The Birmingham Civic Society, which we are all part of, has announced Jane will be presented with their Silver Medal at the Society’s AGM later in the year; well deserved. We all wish you well in your ‘retirement’ Jane, and hopefully from time to time you may pop back to help us plant a few more trees.”

 Jane Edwards former Schools Liaison role says: “This photo is my favourite with Jane and was taken at Lickey Hills. I must say; Jane was a joy to work with and I hope I can now count her as a lifelong friend! Her work ethic was bang on, as she made it clear what she wanted you to do and then left you to get on with it. She responded to e mails and messages quickly to avoid you having to guess what was required. All in all, a great boss! On a personal level, she is always friendly and never moody and if she is stressed – she hides it well!

My funniest memories with Jane are on a one-off occasion, Jane turned up on completely the wrong site and had a cross City dash after she realised we were all at another venue. At Cofton Park we were expecting about 150+ small children.  I was at home chilling and Jane rang and asked ‘where are you?’ I had missed the planting in my diary! The prospect of dealing with all those small kids traumatised her! Luckily I lived nearby and made it just as they were arriving on site!! The relief on her face said it all.”

 Andrew Marshall, HSBC:“On behalf of everyone at HSBC in Birmingham, I wanted to say a massive big thank you to Jane (and everyone connected to BTfL) in accommodating staff from HSBC over the last 3 years. Personally, it has been a real privilege to learn so much about trees from Jane and I’ll miss working with her in the future. Jane’s passion for all things trees and her mission to keep Birmingham green and beautiful is really infectious and has really inspired me on my own quest. I know Jane has also inspired many others along the way, and I can certainly vouch for those colleagues from HSBC who were fortunate enough to volunteer with BTfL over the last few years who have certainly felt this.

We all wish Jane the very best in her next chapter of life and we hope that this brings many years of happiness. It’s bound to involve trees somewhere! From everyone at HSBC, take care and thank you Jane for everything.”

Sue Griffiths, BTfL:“My favourite memory of Jane is at Woodgate Valley which was a very large event early in Jane’s planting career – December 2009. On the Saturday over 130 people in family groups planted 280 trees, following on from businesses earlier. Her cheerful organising skills, marshalling so many people, were well demonstrated and we had great fun. It’s been like that ever since!”

Amelia Ladbrook: “Birmingham Civic society says: “Thank you for your huge contribution to BTfL and the Birmingham Civic Society. The organisation has gone from strength to strength and
have a legacy to be proud of. Best wishes for the future.”

 

 

Viv Astling, BTfL:“Jane has been such a friendly face with a warm smile and often a pre-Covid hug at our planting events. Not once or twice, but on every single occasion. Whatever the weather and whatever the circumstances including coping with missing children or trees that smiling face has overcome the problems.

‘I recall an early planting with Waitrose at a site in the far-flung reaches of Sutton Coldfield when we had horizontal rain driven by a gale force wind. Jane confessed she had quite a lot of water in her boots. But never the less she smiled regardless of the weather.

Many thanks Jane and every good wish for the future. We will miss you and your smile.”

Bill Heslegrave, BTfL:“I shall always treasure memories of Jane’s warm greetings and friendship at BTFL meetings and events, her constant hard work on BTFL’s behalf, her infectious enthusiasm for all things environmental, plus her feistiness when combatting governmental or corporate obduracy. BTFL would not have progressed to where it is today without her drive and ability to make things happen. I for one will miss her lots.”

Mark Eagles KallKwik:“It’s been an absolute pleasure working with you over the past 12 years in your role with BTFL. Where has, the time gone? I wish you every happiness in the next chapter of your life and I hope you enjoy every moment. Hopefully see you again if you are in the City Centre. Good Luck!”

Sophia Nasreisfahany, BTfL:“Being a new recruit to the BTFL team I have only known Jane for a short while but would like to thank Jane for making me feel so welcomed into the BTFL team. It is clear Jane has been a highly valued and respected member of the team for many years and that colleagues are sad to see her leave. I have tried my best so far to absorb as much knowledge and insight as I can from Jane whose expertise will be greatly missed. I can only hope that in time I will be able to live up to Jane’s reputation and help to maintain the fantastic work of BTFL and everyone who supports us. Jane will be a tough act to follow and I am sure will be sadly missed by colleagues and partners, myself included. Thankyou Jane, for helping me off to the best possible start in my new role by sharing your expertise (and many helpful spreadsheets) that I am sure have equipped me as much as possible. I hope you feel you are leaving your role in trustworthy hands and wish you the best of luck and much happiness in your new ventures.”

Julia, Green Team Deutsche Bank:“Dear Jane, we were going through pictures from our tree planting events since 2012 and while the colour of DB T-Shirts changed over the years there were always two constants, you and happy colleagues feeling they have made a difference. Thank you for all your hard work you have put into these events, we have learned a lot over the years and not just about trees but about Birmingham too. All the best for the futurefrom Julia, Muireann, Nate and the rest of the DB Birmingham Green Team”

Justine Marklew, BTfL:“Being a relative newbie myself at BTfL Jane has been a great support. I love the ethos and objectives of BTfL and Jane’s passion for trees and improving our environment has always been paramount. My first year at BTfL has been a wonderful transition made even more rewarding and enjoyable by Jane, who has endorsed creativity and a new approach to social media and Comms. I understand Jane’s passion for trees and BTfL and I understand it must’ve been a difficult decision to leave a role that does so much good and is so rewarding. I wish Jane all the very best in her new venture whatever that may be. Never look back, but always look up at all the beautiful trees you have planted! Thanks’ Jane!

 Fiona Williams, BTfL:“Jane, you have always carried out your duties efficiently and effectively.  I have learned a lot about trees from you and really appreciate it.  It’s been nice to know you and I wish you every happiness in your new place.

Deborah Needle BTfL:

Thousands of trees and millions of leaves

An amazing thing to have achieved

So many children stomping the mud

Learning and laughing can only be good

 Leading the project with joy and smiles

Creating a forest that stretches for miles

Always there to oversee

You cared for each and every tree

 Welcoming planters from far and wide

Describing the work and brimming with pride

Spreading the word – the wonder of trees

Giving us oxygen, beauty and bees

 Thank you, Jane for all you’ve done

I promise I’ll keep fighting on

Caring for trees from their roots to their shoots

In the cold and the rain and in muddy boots

 Thousands of trees and millions of leaves

An amazing thing to have achieved

As you move on to projects new

I wish you luck in all you do

 Simon Needle, Principal Ecologist/Arboriculturist: “It has been a pleasure to work with Jane over the last ten years. During the time, I worked as BCC Conservation and Woodland Manager Jane provided a friendly and professional link to the BTFL project. It was always an enjoyable part of my job to plan where the seasons trees were going to go and what species would be best suited to the site and Jane’s input into those decisions meant that it was always a joint effort between BTFL and Parks, partnership working at its best.

Then when it came to planting Jane was always out on-site rain or shine keeping us on our toes and making sure the trees had the best possible start. The thousands of trees Jane helped to plant and the hundreds of children she has engaged with is a wonderful legacy for the City and for Janes work with BTFL. I wish her all the best for the future.”

 

So, Jane thanks for all your hard work, we will miss you and wish you all the very best for all the next exciting chapter in your life. You have had a huge impact on BTfL, you leave Birmingham a more beautiful, cleaner greener city thanks to all the trees you helped plant across Birmingham. All the time you have taken to help educate and inspire our younger generations to love trees and all the volunteers who have eagerly planted with us come rain or shine under your supervision.

It’s a wonderful legacy to leave with and we feel privileged and proud to have worked with you on such a special and successful project as BTfL – thank you!

 

 

Talking Trees With The Autistic Gardener!

‘I’m a tree nut! Plain and simple.’ Says award winning Alan Gardner, better known through his successful television career in garden design as the Autistic Gardener on Channel 4.

Alan, a seasoned celebrity garden designer from Sutton Coldfield, has an encyclopaedic knowledge and enthusiasm for trees which is wonderful. Waxing lyrical about trees with Alan over a cup of tea on the phone is no better way for BTfL to spend a soggy Monday morning.

Alan, is married to Mandy and a dad of three grown up children, Deanna 20, Reiss 25 and Hayden,28. Alan has Asperger’s Syndrome. His love of horticulture started as a young boy when he began to understand the joy of growing plants, especially cacti. Understanding that there were thousands of plants to learn about, to grow and to nurture started an obsession with horticulture which, excuse the pun grew and grew.

Alan, just starting his career in horticulture

Determined to carve out a career in horticulture Alan began working at Birmingham Parks Department in the late 1970’s aged 16 where he began to perfect his craft. In 1986  he left the parks department to design gardens.

His career has seen Alan create 40 Royal Horticultural Society gardens and won numerous awards at Chelsea, Hampton Court and Tatton Park. The last award Alan won was a silver medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015. His TV career began when he was approached by Channel 4 to present a garden design show in 2015.

In the show Alan re-designs gardens for neuro-typical clients with his five-strong team of trainees; all amateur gardening enthusiasts and all on the autistic spectrum with the programme emphasis on gardens, design and valuing individual differences and achievements.

‘Being autistic means I need to know everything about everything I’m interested in – there are no short measures.’ Alan explains.

‘I don’t call what I do a job, in fact I’ve never had a real job, I get paid for being me, getting to fly all over the world, design gardens, talk about gardens and autism is an absolute joy.’

A publicity shot for the Channel 4 series, The Autistic Gardener

But despite his high-flying career Alan’ feet are firmly on the ground and he enjoys supporting his local area and local community in their endevours to keep improving and maintaining their local environment to make it more biodiverse, beautiful, people friendly and community based.

Alan say: ‘I help a local community group in North Birmingham with John Porter of the parks department in Birmingham to plant in their local area to improve it, make it more diverse, wildlife friendly and more beautiful.

‘It makes the area look good and gives the local community a sense of pride in their environment and I am very much in support of them. It allows people ownership of something quite special.

‘When I started in Birmingham’s Parks department it was because horticulture and plants were of a very special interest to me.

‘Birmingham is one of the greenest cities in the country and I was propagator in charge of Birmingham’s tree nursery in Perry Barr. I’m glad I was a part of our city being so green.

‘There, we grew 12,500 trees, 123 different varieties to be planted in streets and parks in Birmingham.

‘Now years later I can go out for a walk and see an avenue of huge beautiful trees I grew them – it’s a lovely feeling.

‘Being autistic and having Asperger’s Syndrome means certain things draw my attention and I’ve always like things that are bigger than me including, cranes, electric pylon and trees.

‘The oak tree for example is a huge tree and has been here for a considerable amount of time. I’m fascinated by trees, how they got here, why some survive and some don’t.

‘Why some have so much colour and others show as short burst for a month and then are hardly noticeable for the rest of the year. An oak tree supports 200 types of insects while a Japanese Cherry will support virtually none.

‘Certain trees like cherries when in flower are beautiful breath-taking blossom trees, but any other time of the year you may walk past it and hardly notice them much at all.

‘Autumn colour are trees vying for attention, and they are so beautiful if we just take the time to look up and take note. I don’t believe we take enough notice of trees.

‘For me a visit to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is an absolute joy. There are so many amazing trees to wonder at.

‘My favourite tree is Copper Beach which is over 200-yrs old in sits majestically in the Rose Garden. It is a beautiful specimen and the peacocks roost in it.

‘Redwoods too, I love to give Redwoods a hug. It’s like touching fibre glass and it’s a very cuddly tree. The Red Wood has a brilliant defence mechanism, that is the bark is fireproof – amazing trees!

‘Most of them planted in this country were planted at the same time as there was a bit of a craze for them.

‘Just like Monkey Puzzle Tree, you may notice them in the front gardens of Victorian house as people of that time were fascinated by them.

These are trees that were around at the same time as Dinosaurs – trees are quite amazing.  The semi-precious black coloured shiny stone Jet is the fossilized Monkey Puzzle Tree.

‘Trees are part of the glue that holds nature and our world together and as things feel like they are falling apart right now – we need more glue.

‘Planting and growing trees is a legacy that is very important and we must embrace them. I love trees and I was happy to come out with BTfL three years ago planting trees at Jones Wood in Sutton Coldfield.  It was a great morning, doing what I love to do, planting and soaking up the enthusiasm from the local community groups and schools that were also planting that day.

Alan with BtfL at Jones Wood

We need to plant the right trees, so people fall in love with then and stay in love with them. Street trees are wonderful, soften the hard edges. Developers need to plant the right tree and not just plant trees as a token gesture, clumping the wrong trees together without any thought.

In Cannock Chase there are lots of spruce and pine trees, they are good for the environment, but they aren’t great for wildlife and the ground is becoming sterile. But mixed woodland like Beech, Oak and Birch are great for the environment and biodiversity too. Planting these trees along with a good mix of native hedgerows is what we need more of and I understand BTfL is doing this year on year.

Alan working with school children at BTfL tree planting at Jones Wood

I’m happy to see a slow but very strong shift in interest in environment. I see it on a local level with more friends groups and friends of parks groups being organised and growing. There is a Friends Groups in Jones Wood that has emerged and is caring for the local environment encouraging wildlife, other plants and tree species and people.

The area was overrun by brambles and was killing off the beautiful bluebells. So the friends group got together, cleared the area of bramble and now it is a beautiful place to – just be!

You change things by giving it a sense of purpose like the wild area being looked after by locals at Jones Wood. Now people flock to it to enjoy everything this naturally beautiful place has to offer.

Our natural surroundings are so important and people are so preoccupied by just getting through life, not enough appreciating nature around them, although I think lockdown over the last few months has changed this. The slower pace of life has allowed everyone to appreciate their natural surroundings a lot more, so we are all connecting with nature on a deeper level, which makes us more like to invest in it.

I’ve travelled all over the world, New York, Texas, Los Angeles and have seen one side of America to the other. But in this country we have the finest trees in the world.

And for that we should feel very lucky!

A Wonderful Tree Themed Camera Obscura Workshop!

As part of our lockdown Summer engagement programme we worked with St Matthew’s Church of England School in Nechells, Birmingham on a Camera Obscura workshop. This was a fun workshop that enabled students to enjoy the practicalities of making the camera and then capturing images of trees and nature on their homemade camera’s.

We had worked with St Matthew’s Primary School back in February when we planted 10 trees in the local area. It was a lovely morning with children full of enthusiasm, curiosity, smiles and an impressive knowledge and understanding about trees so we couldn’t wait to revisit the school.

The workshop was run by Jo Gane, photographic practitioner and was funded by Matthew Murray Landscape Photographic Artist and Arts Council England and in collaboration with BTfL.

Jo’s specialist area of knowledge is the practice of early photographic processes and translating these difficult techniques into engaging hands-on workshop activities.

Matthew Murray is an award winning photographic artist working on an Arts Council of England project around the landscape of Arenig, North Wales.Matthew is working on an Arts Council of England project around the landscape of Arenig, North Wales.

As part of this project Matthew Murray developed an engagement programme working with artists, practitioners, charities and inner city schools, focusing on communities who may not have the opportunity to participate in these programmes in other circumstances.

Matthew Murray choose BTfL as the project he was interested in collaborating with because of our great environmental and community based work and we are very grateful for that.

Building small cardboard camera obscura is a simplistic, but magical way of understanding how light travels to project an image and a great way of exploring the world though a camera lens.

Camera Obscura is like the pinhole camera used in the 1800’s, camera obscura means, ‘dark chamber’ and is a photographic practice illustrating beautifully how photography is all about ways of capturing light.

In our fast-paced technological world where our phone cameras are an extension of our hands and are used to document every part of our lives, using images that can be manipulated until virtually unrecognisable from the original photograph – it was quite refreshing to go straight back to basics. Seventeen students from years five and six took part in the workshop over Zoom in two class bubbles, overseen by patient and hands on staff!

Running a school’s engagement workshop over Zoom was new to all of us. But within a couple of minutes we’ all settled in and listening intently to Jo’s instructions.

It was a proper Blue Peter inspired moment, as each student was given a cardboard box, masking tape, a lens and some tracing paper. It was clear at first the students weren’t convinced that a camera could be made from such simplistic bits and pieces.

But within half an hour we were well on the way to having the camera’s finished and ready to use.

Students and staff had worked exceptionally hard with Jo and produced their own camera to work with.

As Jo illustrated how to put the tracing paper in the cardboard box with the lens and the children and staff suddenly saw the magic of the images appearing in the box there was a joyous intake of breath and smiles all round.

     

 

It was a great opportunity for students to take their cameras and capture images all around school. The camera obscura works well when there is lots of good natural light, the only downside on that day was that it was a dull rainy day. But it didn’t stop students getting up and off around the school grounds using their camera to capture beautiful images.

The students then took their cameras home and no doubt shared the images with their friends and family capturing images of their home environment and all of nature around them, the flowers, the trees and the trees we planted with St Matthew’s Primary School last tree planting season!

If you would like to make a camera obscura, please click the link and watch the workshop online on BTfL’s YouTube channel.

Testimonial from Mrs. Tracey Adams, Deputy Headteacher at St Matthew’s Church of England School, Nechells, “The project to create pinhole cameras came at the right time, for St Matthew’s – a real ray of creativity during this new way of teaching  It was an opportunity for children (through zoom) to learn a new skill; interact with an expert and also to be inspired to explore the world of photography.  Our Year 5 and 6’s, and their teachers absolutely loved the experience.  We can’t praise this project enough, and want to thank Jo and Justine for getting us involved and Matthew Murray and Art Council England for funding it. 

 

If you capture images you would like to share, then please email them to justine.marklew@btfl.org.uk and we would love to showcase them on our social media channels.

If you would like to view the photographs taken during the workshop, please view, here 

We would like to say thank you to Jo Gane and Matthew Murray for making this happen.

Volunteers’ Week – A Celebration of Coming Together for a Common Cause!

Volunteers’ Week 2020 runs from 1st – 7th of June and is an annual celebration of the contribution millions of people make by Volunteering  in the UK every year.

As well as helping others, volunteering has been shown to improve volunteers’ wellbeing. It’s human nature to feel good after helping someone out. Volunteering can also help you gain valuable new skills and experiences, and boost your confidence.

It’s true to say that an hour can really empower – empowering you, the volunteer, the charity and the community. Giving you a sense of common purpose, pride and togetherness. It adds to your skill set and improves mental and physical health too.

The UK has a society that historically has strong links to volunteering as well as teamwork across the country. This is in part due to the nations large wartime past as well as several national crisis’s over different eras.

Often, volunteering is closely associated with an individuals’ beliefs, passions or alternatively they may have historical connections with a group. Furthermore, many people choose to volunteer as they would like to do something meaningful in their spare time.

Birmingham Trees for Life works with volunteers throughout the tree planting season and over 14-years we have worked with 13000 volunteers and we are grateful to every single one of them and all their hard work and dedication to tree planting.

As BTfL is a very small team on a very large project, planting 7000-10,000 trees a year over 14-years. In a five-month window that means we need that help. We couldn’t achieve the planting of nearly 100,000 trees since our beginnings in 2006 without that help.

In fact, volunteering nationwide props up the UK economy and the financial activity of volunteers is worth nearly 24 billion pounds annually.

Volunteering has a great deal of other value too –

 V – Versatility

O – Opens your mind

L – Learn New Skills

U – Understanding

N – New Sense of purpose

T – Team Work

E-  Empowerment

E – Emotional Wellbeing

R – Raising Awareness

Here BTfL talks to three members of Friends of Parks Groups across Birmingham to see what motivates them to volunteer.

Emma Woolf, MBE, a trustee at, BOSF, (Birmingham Open Spaces Forum) and a dedicated volunteer at Cotteridge Park says: ‘I’ve been volunteering in Cotteridge Park since 1997. I’m just one of many volunteers who keep the park tidy, weeding, planting and pruning.  As well as the gardening, we have volunteers who raise funds, share information on social media, help school groups and lead physical activity sessions.

There is so much done by volunteers to make our parks lovely places to be. The volunteering in our park is just one piece of the puzzle across the city. In 2019 parks and open spaces volunteers in Birmingham contributed more than £600,000 worth of work to our communities.

I give about 50-hours a month and what motivates me is that so many other people are giving their time, so I want to support them – and it makes me happy!

 We have a team of 50-volunteers that work on the annual CoCoMAD festival. We have a team of about 20 people helping at regular gardening, litter picking, helping school groups etc. We also run a forest school where children come and connect with nature get muddy and have so much fun.

We have worked with Birmingham Trees for life over a long period and in February we planted 10 standard trees at various sites across the park with children from Cotteridge Primary School and Kings Norton Girls School.

The important thing about volunteering is to find something you enjoy doing. If you’re not getting paid, then you must enjoy what you’re doing!

If you would like to volunteer for Cotteridge park, please check their social media platforms

Find Friends of Cotteridge Park on Facebook at Friends of Cotteridge Park and on Twitter at – @CotteridgePark

Brenda Wilson, 63 is the secretary for Friends of Queslett Nature Reserve and says: ‘I’ve worked as a volunteer at the reserve for 13-years.

The QNR is a reclaimed quarry, not long after it became a nature reserve the Friends of Queslett Nature Reserve was formed and we have been going strong ever since.

I became the secretary of the QNR friends group back then, but I volunteer in the nature reserve every week too.

My passions are the environment and conservation and I’m so motivated by making those small, but important change to improve QNR. Fundraising, social media, publicity, litter picking, bat walks, patrolling the reserve and engaging with the parks community.

    

  Its’ a very vibrant community, but we are always on the lookout for new members.

Being a volunteer gives me a sense of pride and achievement, keeps me busy doing something worthwhile. I do it for the absolute love of it.

We are guests on this planet and we should treat our host with more respect than we do. When I volunteer at QNR I feel I’m doing my bit for the planet. I dedicate eight-12 hours a week of my time to it and to hear the birdsong, to watch the wildlife on the reservoir, to see it come to life in the Spring and to chat to it’ visitors is a really wonderful thing.

But it’s a legacy that is much bigger than me alone. Every one of our volunteers is an important cog in that wheel. There are no egos, just a shared love of nature. Some individuals might pledge an hour a week or ten hours a week, we are grateful for whatever time that person dedicates to the QNR.

       

We always need volunteers and younger volunteers would be wonderful too.

We continue to maintain the park, work with the ranger service and like-minded environmental and conservation groups like Birmingham Trees for Life.

Our future-plans include engaging with more volunteers who can help us look after the park. We would like to incorporate some some council land near to QNR to turn it into a haven for nature.

We would also like to have a memorial gate at the QNR built in memory of Councillor Keith Linnecor. Keith is my cousin and was the founder member of The Friends of QNR and chairman. He did a huge amount of volunteer work at QNR to make it the haven it is today and was a determined advocate for it.

Sadly, Keith passed away in February. His legacy at the QNR is huge and wonderful. He showed such passion and dedication and we would love to honour all the amazing dedication that he showed to it over the years – that would be lovely.

The QNR is central to the community here and over lockdown it became even more so. Highlighting just how important nature is to us all and I will continue to nurture it for as a long as I can.

If you would like to volunteer for QNR please contact them through their social media platforms

Facebook -The Friends of Queslett Nature Reserve

Twitter – @the_queslett 

 James Hinton, 45 works with the friends of Perry Park and says: ‘I’ve been a member of the group since it started over two years ago.

It started when the building for the Commonwealth Games began as the Alexander Stadium is in Perry Park. We wanted to ensure the parks interests were being looked after. We are a small, but dedicated group of eight people. Perry Park is an important open green space to its residents. The park is in a busy built up area and open green spaces are intrinsic to our wellbeing.

There is a beautiful reservoir brimming with all kinds of birds and wildlife and we want to keep it looking beautiful so we go on regular litter picks. We started guided walks in the park for the local community. It’s especially good for the older generation who might feel isolated, building a more cohesive community.

I have a pretty intensive job in an office to get into the park and do some physical tasks to improve the park is great. I dedicate a day a month and feel I am doing everything I can to improve the area for everyone to enjoy.

As a friends group, we feel a sense of togetherness and stewardship, it’s satisfying to see that we are making a difference to our park. We are from many different backgrounds and in other circumstances we may never have met, but our common cause has given us a sense of togetherness to work in this green space which is an asset to the community.

When the public are using the park, and see us working in it, they are happy to talk to us, to thank us for our time. That’s another very important part of volunteering for me.

There is a stretch of land at the edge of the motorway that we would want to turn it into a wildlife reserve where schools and communities could visit and learn about nature. We would like to work with the Commonwealth Games to regenerate some parts of the park and ensure its looked after properly before, during and after the games.

We are always looking for new volunteers to join the Perry park Friends Group and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Everyone who volunteers has a special reason why.

Mine is to ensure my park is in as good a shape as it can be, so people want to come and enjoy everything it has to offer.

There was a time I might’ve said; I don’t have the time to volunteer through my busy schedule. But actually of course we can all find a bit of time through the week or months if we want to. It’s just about finding your niche, your passion. It might only be an hour or two a month, but rest assured that time will be cherished, celebrated and valued more than you can imagine.

For me it’s a win, win situation. You take out of volunteering what you put into it.

It’s empowering and instils a sense of ownership and pride and we should never take those feeling for granted!

 If you would like to volunteer at Perry Park or become a member of the Perry Park Friends Group, please contact them via Twitter – @friends_perry

We Have to Plant Millions More Trees! #TogetherWeWill

When BtFL were invited to visit King Edward’s Boy’s School in Aston in February. We couldn’t have been more delighted. A group pf 15 students had chosen BTfL as their chosen environmental charity in Birmingham to support. The King Edward students in collaboration with a charity called Envision wanted to raise funds to enable BTfL to plant more trees and promote what we do.

‘It’ all about the trees, we are all about the trees,’ they explained. ‘We have to plant millions more trees to save the world!

Envision is a ‘can do’ organisation driven by the desire to build a ‘can do’ generation with the ability to turn ideas into reality. Working with young people providing them with practical learning experiences in the world of work to empower them, give them confidence, skills, determination and value team work. Tackling social mobility through social action. It’s an amazing project and one BTfL have been very honoured to be involved in.

We visited the school to run an educational session about trees, our educational engagement programme has been funded by the Halpin Trust. This funding enables us, as a project to get the message about the importance of trees out there. Inspiring young people to think more about trees and engage more with trees and nature. Understanding that planting trees is an environmental legacy we should all be part of. Visiting the class back then it was clear they were a, ‘can do’ team, with great ability, creative ideas, a pragmatic and enthusiastic bunch wanting to change the world for the better – we were privileged to meet them and hear their ideas.

Their passion for trees and in particular trees in Birmingham along with deep concerns about environmental issues saw them discuss big plans which were to be spread over 13-weeks. But sadly, Covid-19 stopped everything, except the students’ determination to keep their promise to raise funds.

Under extremely difficult circumstances the students have ploughed on, when it could’ve been so easy to say sorry, we can’t do any more. In earnest, the students launched a fundraising page, that can be found, here.

Sharing the page, having weekly sessions with their Envision coach to bounce around creative ideas, before lockdown happened.

Conducting an engaging assembly to their peers about the value of trees and what BTfL do. They ran an interactive quiz using Kahoot about the importance of urban trees.

They had planned to accompany on us to celebrate Arbour Day in April. They were planning a fun day of activities at the Custard Factory, including quizzes, party games, and selling homemade samosas.

 

But despite all their plans coming to nothing, due to lockdown the students are still managing to raise funds. So, would you help them and us by sharing this page and even donating to it? Please click here to share or donate, here.

Enjoying what the students have to offer and absorbing their positivity and enthusiasm was a wonderful experience for us. Because as the class quite rightly stated, ‘It’s all about the trees and we’re all about the trees!’

So, help us plant more trees and add to the legacy that has made Birmingham one of the greenest cities in the world, the legacy led by students at King Edward School Aston, the legacy that our small part in changing the world for the better and the legacy that is, #TogetherWeWill

Forest Tree Flowers and Fruits – look out for them on your walks

We all enjoyed the amazingly beautiful ornamental cherry blossom in April. But forest trees also have flowers and fruits, sadly not edible like cherries and apples. The yellow flowers of the purple Norway Maple turn into ‘helicopter wing’ seeds, the pollen from the Oak catkins contributes to creating acorns and the Ash produces hundreds of ‘keys’. The forest tree which is the most famous for its flowers is the Horse Chestnut, with its amazing candelabras of usually white flowers which always look breathtaking.

It’s National Gardening Week – Go Get Grubby!

National Gardening Week 27th April –  3rd May, is run by the Royal Horticulture Society and has always been about raising awareness of gardening and horticulture. The more we garden, the healthier and more self-sufficient we are, the closer to nature we become as well as learning new skills and feeling inspired and enjoying each new season and all the wonders it brings. But there are other amazing benefits.

– Just 30-minutes gardening relieves stress and reduces the stress hormone Cortisol and reducing cortisol levels reduces your risk of obesity, memory loss and heart disease.

– Gardening is considered moderate exercise and regular moderate exercise cuts the risk of strokes and heart disease by 30 percent.

– Hand strength and dexterity, gardening keeps the hands and muscles working, avoiding stiffness of muscle and joints

– Regular gardening represents the single biggest risk reduction for dementia, up to 36 percent. Gardening involves using strength, endurance, dexterity, learning, problem solving, and sensory awareness, keep your physically and mentally challenged.

– 30-minutes a day in the sunshine means you are soaking up Vitamin D to enable you to better fight off colds and flus. It helps strengthen bones and helps prevent joint deterioration.

– Horticulture therapy is a growing trend to help alleviate depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, the benefits spring from a combination of physical activity, being immersed in natural surroundings, cognitive stimulation and the satisfaction of completing work.

Since lockdown began there has been a dramatic increase in people using their gardens and green spaces as an escape, as a sanctuary, re-engaging with nature and appreciating the slower pace of life.  In these uncertain times, the act of planting, flowers, shrubs, fruit or veg is one reassuring fact –  knowing that these plants will grow and you can watch every aspect of their development every time you venture into the garden.

While we are all social distancing, we are starved of the physical company and affection of our nearest and dearest. So why not hug nature instead – not literally! But go outside, sit or stand under a tree or trees – and just be! Study the wild flowers and weeds. Listen to birdsong or the rustling of trees in the breeze. Walk barefoot in the grass, rake up some leave and make some leaf art!

Play football, pick fruit, pluck out weeds, plant perennials…. The great outdoors whether it’s your garden, your patio, your balcony or window box has never been more important right now. April/May is a key month for seed sewing and carrots, radishes, beetroot, chard, spring onions and even courgettes can be grown in a small plot.  Just one or two courgette plants will produce quite a useful crop in a good year.  If you start your seedlings indoors, don’t forget they will need ‘hardening off’ before planting out – put the trays outside during the day, but unless you have a cold frame or small greenhouse, don’t leave the trays out overnight until the nights get a bit warmer. Then once the risk of the last frost has gone, plant out your seedlings into the bed.

There’s nothing quite like fresh baby salad leaves picked from the garden straight to the table – so much better than those chlorine-washed bagged salads from the supermarket!  So even if all you have is a square-metre plot, get sowing seed now and you should be able to enjoy fresh baby leaves in just 5-8 weeks!

Lettuce, mixed salad leaves, Rocket, mizuna and pak choi can all be sown outside from now onwards – sow thinly in rows and cover lightly with soil or compost.  If you’re short on space, just sow one or two short rows of each at a time, to leave room for succession sowing – by sowing a new row of seeds every 2-3 weeks, you will ensure a continuous supply of leaves for months.  Remember to keep the seeds and young plants watered. Then all you need to do is pluck or cut young leaves every time you want a lovely fresh salad

Take some time to nurture your shrubs and perennials for a good show of flowers and lush green growth this year. Sprinkle fertiliser on the soil around shrubs and perennials, and even hedges and trees if you have them, and lightly work into the soil with a hoe.  Pelleted chicken manure is organic and cheap, but dogs love the smell so if you have a dog you might prefer to use Growmore! Keep on top of the weeds– annual weed seedlings are now growing – hoe them off, or use a hand trowel or fork to dig out the more deep-rooted ones, to prevent them taking hold and setting seed. You can put them on the compost heap.

Even those with no garden, just a balcony, or a small back yard or front pathway, can get a huge benefit from seasonal bedding plants in containers – a lovely welcoming splash of colour at the front door or outside the French windows brightens up the space and makes for a cheerful homecoming at the end of the day.

Growing herbs on your window sill adds some beautiful greenery to your kitchen or garden and provides a veritable choice of home grown flavours to add to your cooking each day!

The easiest thing in the world to grow anywhere are strawberries – the only thing more enjoyable than watching them grow and ripen is picking and eating them and fighting over the last one left on the plant. While gardening centres are closed you will find a selection of seeds and, annuals and perennials in your supermarket, there might not be a huge choice, but there are still a few to choose from.

And you thought the only downside of gardening was getting grubby – wrong!  even the dirt under your fingernails may be working in your favour! The “friendly” soil bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae — common in garden dirt and absorbed by inhalation or ingestion on vegetables — has been found to alleviate symptoms of psoriasis, allergies and asthma. This particular organism has also been shown to alleviate depression so go ahead and get your hands dirty.

Get out and garden in national gardening week, and every other week, there will always be something to do. If you don’t have a garden then research, ‘community gardens,’ in your area and become a volunteer there after lock down. Consider joining a, Friends of Parks Group at your local park after lockdown. If there isn’t one, why not start one. It won’t be just green spaces you are nurturing, but new friendships and social circles too.

And of course, BTfL wouldn’t be worth their salt if we didn’t ask you to try and find a space in your garden to plant a tree and wait and see. Every tree you see in a park, field, on the street, in a garden, stately home, wasteland has been planted by someone who wanted to change the world a little bit for the better – it’s a great club to join and membership is free – it just means planting that tree!

Please log onto the Royal Horticultural website for hints and tips for every kind of garde and gardener https://www.rhs.org.uk

 

Grow Your Own Through a Global Pandemic – Why Ever Not!

Who would’ve imaged any of us would say – I’m growing my own veg because of the global pandemic! Sounds like a quote from a 1950’s B-movie,  but it’s not – it’s it’s here and it illustrates the very serious and strange times we are experiencing right now.

In the first few days of the Covid-19 restrictions we saw supermarket shelves empty, fresh fruit, veg, not to mention pasta and toilet roll unavailable as panicked shoppers hoarded food in vast amounts. Two-weeks later refuse collectors stated that there had been a 30-percent increase in fresh food thrown out due to being out of date or unused -a terrible waste!

While there was bedlam in the fruit and veg isles in the shops, seasoned gardeners relaxed in their allotments or vegetable patches, quite literally enjoying the fruits of their labour.

Some experienced gardeners produce fruit, veg and salad every summer and enjoy the tastier organic produce they nurtured themselves, sharing home-grown food with friends and neighbours.

There was nothing like a knock on the front door and a friendly smiley neighbour held up a bag of tomatoes, sugar snap peas, potatoes or spring cabbage that had just been dug up and shared – talk about fresh! The term, ‘grow your own,’ comes from World War I and World War II when private gardens and public parks became, ‘War Gardens,’ or, ‘Food Gardens for Defence.’ Governments across Europe, in the UK and America encouraged residents to grow their own food to supplement rations and boost morale, a sense of community and reduce pressure on the limited food supply.

   

And today pandemic gardens can do very much the same.

As the population has worried about the supply of food during this pandemic there has been an upsurge people growing their own fruit and veg for the first time. Of course, growing your own food is the epitome of self-sufficiency and positive environmental action. Ensuring you are not consuming fresh food flown half way across the globe for us to enjoy so reducing carbon emissions and waste, as well as avoiding fertilisers and pesticides – improving your green credentials instantly.

It is also great exercise and fantastic for emotional wellbeing allowing us all the connect with nature by learning about home grown food. And let’s not forget how good it tastes too. As a nation, the UK population suffers a vitamin D deficiency, by spending just an hour or so enjoying the great outdoors, using our gardens as a larder and not only a relaxing sanctuary we benefit on all levels.

You don’t need a vast garden, just a small space in a sunny patch, even a raised bed or two and if you don’t have a garden or a balcony you can grow herbs on your window sill, basil, parsley, chives, coriander, thyme or even a chili plant will grow well and it feel great to pick, chop and cook with home grown herbs in your kitchen.

How many times have we thrown away or composted the end of a leek, celery or spring onion. Instead place these ends into a small bowel in a shallow pool of water and watch them sprout. Once they have taken all you need is a pot and some compost – and hey presto a lovely little crop of veggies!
On a balcony, you can easily grow tomatoes, spinach kale, rocket, watercress, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries as they can all be grown in containers. Having a raised bed or a border means you can grow potatoes, courgettes, green beans, beetroot, lettuce, cauliflower, onions, cabbage and chard and quite literally in a few months the world will be your loganberry – we mean lobster!  And, of course BTfL would always encourage any of us, to plant a tree or two in your garden, be it apple, pear, quince or damson and not only enjoy picking the fruit, but to enjoy the beautiful spring blossom too as well as the trees providing a habitat for wildlife. Right now, your supermarket will be full of vegetable and salad seed packets and would almost always be considered a necessity to buy
.

Growing tips from Guy Barter, the RHS’s chief horticulturalist

A sunny site is ideal, but more shade-tolerant crops include beetroot, chard, peas, runner beans, spinach and salads

Soil is ideal but if your plot doesn’t even support weeds it might be unsuitable. Growbags or containers filled with potting compost will give good crops where soil is not an option

Clear an area of weeds by digging. Ideally add garden compost or rotted manure and fertiliser to improve the soil

Sow seeds of whatever you like to eat. Crops that taste best freshly gathered are many people’s favourites – salads, tomatoes, new potatoes, chard and other leaf beets.

There is no need to buy expensive seeds, bargain ones in supermarkets meet the same legal standards

Seeds need warmth, moisture, light and air most easily provided by sowing in pots, covering very lightly with sieved compost and watering ideally from below by standing pots in a shallow dish of water

Sowing outdoors is best for peas and beans as many plants are needed for a decent serving. Leave a finger width between small seeds, two fingers between peas and a hand’s width between broad beans.

Water heavily every 14 days if drought strikes and keep weeds down.

Growing your own fruit and vegetables isn’t an art, it’s not specialist job, but it will need regular attention and watering, but the benefits will be wonderful when you bite into that home-grown tomato or spring onion in a tasty salad or enjoy that lovely corn on the cob or those crunchy sugar snap peas.

Gardening to grow your own needs a bit of patience, waiting happily to reap  the benefits of your hard work.  And as you dig, plough, pick and pull you may well find that the fresh produce isles in your supermarket become disowned as you continue to grow your own.

And as we all are frustrated by the anxiety and restrictions of today and hope they pass sooner rather than later, then we have tomorrow to look forward to and as Audrey Hepburn said: ‘to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.’ And my, won’t those carrots taste delicious tomorrow!