Category: News

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.

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.

Read This Load of Old Rubbish? Yes – and Become a Litter Guardian!

For lots of us during our busy lives before lockdown, a walk was something we did to achieve an important daily goal. To get to the shops, the school run, to exercise the dog, to get to work, meet friends, go to the park to play footie or give the children or ourselves some exercise or enjoy nature.

Now life has come to a virtual standstill isolation allows us one form of exercise a day and it’s feels like our golden ticket!  Now of course the small things do feel like a great treat, including walking.

A day and we are no longer rushing from one place to another to get something done. Now we can walk for the sake of walking – and it’s a bit of a blessing.

At BTfL we have always advocated walking as a green alternative to your car, as exercise, as a way of appreciating your surroundings, to clear your head, think creatively and of course appreciate trees.

But now we have the time to appreciate all these things, we can do something more – we can pick up litter.

We all know walking is good exercise, but litter picking adds that extra dimension for to your exercise routine all that bending and stretching is good for joint and muscle movement, not to mention the cardiovascular benefits.

We all know horrible and unpleasant it is to see an over flowing bin in your local park – or anywhere. Or watching a reckless individual throw an empty drinks’ can or takeaway carton out of their car window without a care.

And we always wonder – why! Why go out of your way to make your environment look ugly!

Instead let’s ask why not? Why not grab some gardening gloves, a bin bag and a steely determination to improve your own patch today and pick up some litter on your daily walk?

It’ good exercise and boy will it make you feel a small, but brilliant sense of achievement and pride.

But there are other benefits too.

An area with higher levels of litter are more likely to attract crime. Criminals believe that less pride taken in an area means they will have an easier time committing crimes.

If some people see litter around, they are more likely to litter, care less, dump their rubbish where other people have carelessly dumped theirs.

But it works the other way too. If there is no litter in an area it means that individual will feel less compelled to start littering and will make a conscious decision to do the right thing and throw their rubbish in the bin.

It brings the community closer because if a neighbour or local resident sees you picking up litter it will make them feel good, allow them more pride in their local area, dissuade them from littering and it may even inspire them to pick up litter too!

That horrible feeling of seeing rubbish all over the floor will also disappear. Lifting the mood, enhancing our appreciation of a well-kept and tidy local area allowing us to enjoy and appreciate that area more.

 

And we say, If it’s good enough of the Wombles’ then it’s good enough for us all. And if you are too young to remember the Wombles’, they were environmental heroes of the day in the 1970’s an 80’s on children’ television. A family of lovable Wombles’ living in a burrow on Wimbledon Common, making their purpose in life to keep it tidy and recycle other people’s rubbish. Employing that well versed mantra – one person trashes another person’s treasure! And the Wombles are still around today spreading that same message of, ‘Keep Britain Tidy.’

So, think about it – if you could achieve a lower crime rate, pride in your community and yourself, improve your health, encourage a more upbeat mood, a more beautiful area to walk around and appreciate just by picking up a few bits of litter along the way, you would do it wouldn’t you, we all would.

But if you disagree and think this blog is a load of old rubbish too – then on your next walk make the effort to notice every piece of litter you pass, on a grass verge or in a bush where wildlife makes it home, in a park where children play, or along the street where we all walk and wonder who much nicer it would look if the litter wasn’t there.

It might inspire you to pick up that little bit of rubbish along the way and become a litter guardian.

And whether you remember the lovable Children’s TV characters, the Wombles or not we  say make like a Womble and go on a litter pick – it will really do the trick!

 

If you would like to start picking up litter while you are out on your daily walks, here are a few pointers to help you along the way.

  • DO wear gloves. A pair of gardening gloves or something tough enough to pick up items with sharp edges is a good idea. 
  • DON’T pick up anything dangerous, especially at this time. Avoid handling needles, very heavy objects, or anything that could be contaminated with chemicals or pathogens. 
  • DO bring a strong plastic bag. Nothing worse than getting a tear in your bag half-way along your walk!
  • DON’T overdo it.  This is your daily exercise- but it’s best if it is enjoyable.  In these days of lockdown, the chances are that you can come back tomorrow and pick up some more. 
  • DO take your bag of litter home. Council bins are probably not getting emptied as often as they used to so you can help by popping it in your wheelie bin when you get back to your house. Recycle when possible. 
  • And DO observe all the important social distancing rules to keep yourself and others safe from coronavirus transmission. As always, do not touch your face, and wash your hands with soap when you get home.  

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

 

Earth Day 2020 – 50 Years of Positive Action!

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the hell you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all in a miserable home….., choose your future……, choose life.”

Nothing summed up a generation of global capitalism and consumerism, things we didn’t need, or want, keeping up with the Jones’s, or now the Kardashian’s. Life having little meaning other than the rampant greed of the 1980’s and 1990’s summed up brilliantly in monologue spoken by Trainspotting chief protagonist Mark Renton in John Hodge’s screenplay for the film.

Today, Wednesday 22nd of April sees us celebrate the 50th year of Earth Day. It is an annual event celebrated around the world to demonstrate support for environmental protection. First celebrated in 1970, it now includes events coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network in more than 193 countries. And Earth Day is and always will be a very real rebellion against everything that Trainspotting speech denotes and a celebration of everything beautiful nature offers!

 

The reason why we celebrate Earth Day is that it affirms the principle of human beings as an equal part of nature and that though we have the greatest benefit of being the intelligent species, we also have the enormous responsibility of protecting the Planet – so far we have failed!

Has anything changed since that rebellion speech in Trainspotting in 1996?

Fifty-years of angry voices shouting, environmental activists marching, Millennials’ pleading with politicians and corporations to respect the planet. A school girl from Sweden turned environmental activist shaming world leaders for their shoddy green credentials and disrespect for the planet and its future generations.

Globalisation raging, ice-caps melting, droughts, floods, forest fires, earths biodiversity dying at a rate not seen for 65-million years since the annihilation of the dinosaurs! And we have just one generation – less than 12-years to start healing our planet before it’s too late!

And even knowing all this it seems the world’s super powers – the worst offenders still aren’t listening.

But the irony is that since the global pandemic Covid-19, and a worldwide lockdown we have seen the human-race fighting for its survival while nature quite rightly re-claims what is rightfully hers all along!

There have been many positive stories of how wildlife, nature, forests, ice-caps, coral reefs, rivers, air quality and the ozone layer have seen positive outcomes because the world has come to a standstill.

   

It is amazing to see that a planet so damaged can begin to heal itself – proof that when life gets back to normal it’s not too late to make the changes we need to ensure our planet’s survival.

And as Millennials have pointed out, the horror and panic that the world is feeling right now because of  the global pandemic is how Millennials feel every day worrying about the on-going destruction of the planet and their future on it.

So, we must, must, must learn lessons because our environmental mistakes have been huge – the learning curve we can embrace from this is just as big. Because the only thing worse than being the worst offender is being the worst repeat offender!

We aren’t world leaders, but we all have the capability to lead!

During pervious celebrations of Earth Day, there have concerts, festivals, tree plantings, litter picks, community recycling projects, energy conservation, growing your own or even keeping a birdfeeder full!

Because of the pandemic Earth Day 2020 with its theme of, Climate action will be different due to the lockdown and social distancing regulations.

But it doesn’t mean you can’t get involved, you can’t lead and a small environmental legacy. Click the link to see what you can do to help save your planet and become part of  that global environmental legacy! https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-2020/

And right now, we have the  time to think about what we can do today, tomorrow and every day after that to do our bit to save the planet and make it healthy again.

No matter when or how you celebrate Earth Day, its message about the personal responsibility we all share to “think globally and act locally” as environmental stewards of planet Earth has never been more timely or important.

So why not choose…., a litter pick, a long walk,  join a conservation group, recycle more, upcycle everything, donate more, throw away less, grow you own, plant a tree, plant another tree, feed wildlife in your garden, make do and mend, buy less, value more, go vegetarian, boycott plastic  packaging, shop locally, walk more, drive less, ride a bike, volunteer, go paperless, adopt an animal, turn your thermostat down, have shorter showers, don’t have baths, start a compost heap, join a library, cook, not convenience, invest in house plants to cut pollution, car share, insulate your home, garden more, join, get involved in your community, join an environmental group, have the courage of your convictions, share your green credentials, be mindful, get mad, think outside of yourself, think longterm.

Choose your future, choose their future…, choose life…,  and choose it together!

 

 

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!

 

Don’t Be a Tree Mugger – Be A Tree Hugger!

Space – it’s at a premium and lots of us want more if it. Whether it’s extending our homes, our gardens, our driveways, or wanting a better view – sometimes trees get in the way! I’m sure we’ve all heard the reasons for chopping down that one beautiful tree, ‘I need more space, it’s getting in the way of my drive, I hate cleaning up the leaves, that sap on my car is so annoying, those roots are out of control, I want to landscape my garden, its spoiling my view….’

Now just imagine we all chopped down one tree in our garden, ‘the flooding here is ridiculous, the air quality on my street is so poor, I’ve lost thousands off the value of my home, I’d love more shade in my garden, I feel so stressed out, where have all the birds gone, I live in a concrete jungle, my child’s asthma is getting worse….

It’s just one tree you say – what if 65.5 million other people said that too! That’s the population of the UK. It’s, ‘just one tree.’ Well that one tree cuts air pollution, absorbs carbon dioxide, provides oxygen, reduces flooding, absorbs toxins and bad smalls, provides a habitat and food source to wildlife, improves physical health, aids emotional wellbeing, provides shading, screening and cooling, acts as a windbreaker, increases the price of your home, aids local productivity and gives us something beautiful to enjoy.

   

Across the UK there were 27.2 million households in 2017 of these 22.7 million households have a garden. If every one of these households planted two trees each, it would total more than 45 million. This is about 3% of the total number of trees the Woodland Trust estimates the UK needs to plant by 2050 to reach net zero emissions – 1.5 billion. What an amazing statistic to be part of!

There are 7.7 billion people on the planet and three trillion trees, 30 percent of the planet is covered in trees, but half of the trees on the planet have already been cut down. And today, like every day, trees across the globe are being cut down at a rate of 500 a second – please don’t make it 501 and be part of such a terrifying statistic!

A single mature oak tree can absorb 50-gallons of water a day, a mature leafy tree can produce as much oxygen as 10 people need to breathe in just one season. A mature tree can absorb up to 48 lbs of carbon dioxide a year. Spending just a few hours under a tree or around trees can improve physical and mental health for up to three months. Being outside connecting with nature is a must for our health.

 

We need to be a good ancestors and nurture nature for future generations. Thinking long term is the key. Not our long term, but your children’s and their children’s long term future on a planet which needs millions more trees to be planted to ensure it is healthy and humankind has a future. So if you cut down that one tree in your back garden you are reducing your children’s, your grandchildren’s your friends, your neighbours and your own air supply – do you want that burden on your shoulders?

So, we say – just leave that tree and learn to love that tree. It’s not a burden it’ a blessing, only giving and never taking away. Furthermore, plant a tree because you will be doing everyone in the world a very big favour and what could feel better than that? We know what could be better – planting another tree!

Please, please, leave the tree in your back garden to carry on giving us all a better quality of life. The tree you want to cut down has most likely been there way before you arrived and will be there years after you have left. You don’t have to plant an oak tree, if you have a smaller space to work with why not plant any number of smaller beautiful trees.

Crab Apple– Add spring flair to your landscape, a wide array available that bears flowers in shades of white, pink, and red and produces orange, gold, red, or burgundy fruits. Many varieties offer exceptional Autumn colour and great disease resistance.

Japanese Maple– There are lots of small, slow-growing Japanese Maples to grow that won’t overcrowd your garden in a hurry. The foliage provides blazing autumn colour and grows in an attractive shape. Grow them in a sheltered spot, out of direct sun, or try them in a large tub.

Cercis– Commonly known as redbuds, these trees are grown for their spring and summer blossom, with some cultivars having dramatic bronze or purple foliage, too and will grow to 8m.

Ornamental Cherries– are perfect trees for small gardens. Their spring blossom is breath-taking and will benefit pollinators as well as being a feast for the eyes and is a lovely choice for a small garden, ultimately reaching 8m in height.

Hawthorn – is a wonderful choice for a small garden and one of the most wildlife-friendly trees you can grow. Native to the UK, it’s a caterpillar food plant for moths, bees visit the flowers in spring and birds love the calorie-rich berries in autumn. The species can reach 6-8m in height and there are plenty of cultivars to choose from.

Japanese Dogwoodis a lovely small tree native to Japan and Korea. In early summer, it bears masses of tiny flowers that are surrounded by conspicuous white bracts. When autumn arrives, the foliage turns a vibrant shade of crimson along with strawberry-like pink fruits.

Don’t be a trees mugger – be a tree hugger, plant a tree and wait and see, we guarantee you will never be disappointed.

And remember – a world without trees is a world without lungs and a world without lungs is a world with no future!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 (NB, We would only ever advocate cutting down a tree if it a diseased or dangerous always check with your local council before felling any tree in your garden)

 

Wellbeing Through My Window

We find ourselves in extraordinary times. A global pandemic which has seen the world go into lockdown. Every individual being asked to stay indoors if they can and only venture out for food and a short walk or a burst of exercise once a day.

A situation like we have never seen before and hope we will never see again. Of course it’s a huge ask – but the positive implication for us all making this sacrifice is huge too – to stay indoors means saving lives – so not such a big ask after all.

But no one said it was going to be easy.

We all take the great outdoors for granted, the daily commute, the school run, a walk in the park, jogging, cycling, chatting while on a lovely walk with the dog in the woods.

   

Now our movements have been restricted to one trip out per day our physical and emotional wellbeing is going to be tested. Suddenly our pace of life is much slower, more time to appreciate everything we never get a chance to in normal circumstances.

So, what do we do? We say look outside and find some wellbeing through your window!

This is your chance to showcase nature! Wherever you live there will be plenty of it. In the country, there will be oodles of it, but I you live in a tower block there may be less of it. But there will always be trees, bushes, flowers, birds, bees and insects as well as nature’s wonderful noises that we can all appreciate through our window on to the view we see and enjoy every day.

Just watching a tree blow gently in the wind can be captivating, seeing birds flying in the sky, bees buzzing from one flower to another, hearing chirping of birds through the day and watching lovely new spring flowers pop up each day. Just living near to a tree or trees will reduce stress and anxiety. If hospital patients have a view of trees it aids and speeds up their recovery and reduces their need for pain relief. While the colours green and blue are more relaxing.

   

The act of tree bathing is a Japanese practice which is a process of relaxation known in Japan as, shinrin yoku. The simple method of being calm and quiet around and amongst trees, observing nature around you while breathing deeply can help adult and children de-stress, boost health and wellbeing in a completely natural way.

Find some trees in a local park and sit or stand alone, observe, listen and smell nature all around you. Your senses will sharpen, your body will relax and your emotions will feel soothed and you will grounded. But after that one-hour a day in the park while observing the two-metre social distancing and only enjoying nature with adults and children in your own household you have to return home.

But your relationship with trees and nature need not stop there. At BTfL we would love it if you would share your photographs of nature and trees through your window. A view that instils calm and comfort and wellbeing. You could even tell us why your view makes you feel calm and happy.

‘Wellbeing through your window,’ is a chance for us to showcase our view, our nature, our daily dose of wellbeing spoon-fed to us by nature right outside our front door or back doors. You may want to sketch your view, your child/children may want to draw their view and we would love to publish a gallery of wellbeing through your window images. Remember sharing is caring and we can all learn and appreciate a little from each other’s views.

Here is one of our followers, Nikki a South Birmingham resident with a view and her thoughts on the wellbeing through her window.

 ‘I have ME/CFS so I’m in the increased risk category so won’t be venturing out unless it’s absolute necessary. My daughter should have been sitting her GCSEs in May. Having the garden to escape to during isolation is a God send. We’re appreciating the daffodils, tulips and bamboo. Listening to the fish ripple in the pond, the birds tweeting. It’s calming, grounding and the current sunshine helps my health anyway so if we didn’t have this to escape to we’d find it more difficult and it would impact my condition more. Reading and playing cards in the sunshine has been the unwinding needed for my daughter after so much uncertainty over the last few weeks. Mother Nature needs to be appreciated and respected more by us all.’

 

Please email your, ‘Wellbeing Through My Window,’ photographs, sketches, painting and thoughts to justine.marklew@btfl.org.uk and we will be posting them regularly on our social media channels.

We really look forward to showcasing your images.

Thank you and keep well

 

Planting Trees – What a Great Way to Make Amazing Memories!

Well, things haven’t panned out as any of us would have imagined. Who knew that our Friends and Family tree planting event just over a week ago would be our last tree planting and last tree planting blog of the season. This event happened before we were all told to socially distance ourselves from each other.  A day for people to come and plant a tree to celebrate, remember and create a memory or two – and we certainly did.

At the Lickey Hills Country Park a large group arrived bit by bit, some with spades, some without, some with wellies, some without, but everyone arrived with a smile and the intention of enjoying every minute of the morning.

 It was a short walk down the steep hill from the Lickey Hills Visitor Centre, passed the children’s playground, following the path to a large clearing surrounded by trees. After a brief introduction to the trees that were going to be planted, Lime, Field Maple, Oak and Hazel and a short spade safety talk people dispersed over a wide area to a spot they liked the look of and started planting. There was a quiet hum of cheery chatter amongst the group as they planted whip after whip.

 One lady commenting, ‘I thought I would be coming here to plant one tree, but I’ve already planted ten – it’s wonderful. The beauty of the Friends and Family tree planting event is that we are honoured to hear the many wonderful stories of why and who the trees are being planted for.

There was Dillon, a babe in arms, his family were planting trees to commemorate his birth. Even though Dillon was a year old his family helped him grab the spade with both tiny hands and while his Mum gently dug down into the earth he held onto the handle tightly, proving you are never too young to plant you first tree. Then there was the couple who loved the Lickey Hills and brought their Chow Chow dog for walks there every day. A friend had decided that planting trees to celebrate their engagement would be a wonderful gift.

  
Other people were planting trees in memory of a lost loved one. Whole families celebrating the life of their lost relative by planting trees that will grow into beautiful adult trees and remain there for decades to come.

Then we spoke to a group of wonderful women from the Birmingham branch of Soroptimist International, an organisation, empowering and transforming the lives and human rights of women across the world. The group were planting trees in memory of eight group members that had passed away and as a legacy to the amazing work Soroptimist International, Central Birmingham have done for 92-years!

There was also a 50th wedding anniversary celebration, while other people had come to plant trees to offset their carbon footprint. By the end of the morning we had achieved a wonderful legacy, planting a woodland of 600 native trees that will grow into a beautiful wooded area for people to visit and enjoy generation after generation.

Every tree planted that day was a memory, an emotion, a celebration of someone or something and we always feel privileged that we were part of that special moment! We thank everyone who came that morning to plant trees and we thank everyone who has planted trees with us this season, and we hope to see you all again next year!

Please see the photo album of this event here

If you would like to plant a tree in memory of someone or something or to celebrate an occasion please visit our website and click, sponsor tree planting

Thank you