Tag: community engagement

Review of the BTfL Year 2019 – 2020

Well here we again looking back at another year. Normally we would be celebrating planting another 10,000 trees and working with hundreds of volunteers, but as we all know 2020 has been a very different and very difficult year for all of us.

When lockdown happened our tree planting activity stopped and has struggled to get properly started again.

We understood that the world had bigger priorities than tree planting. It was disappointing not to be outside breathing in the fresh air digging holes and building on those great relationships we share with the people of Birmingham.

But as we all adjusted it was clear that there was one positive outlet. The one revelation for everyone was – nature!

We all began to appreciate and absorb and enjoy everything outside had to offer. The sunshine, wildlife, flowers blooming, trees flowering, a walk barefoot on the grass. Our gardens and green spaces became a sanctuary that aided our wellbeing and physical health.

    

Now nature as a healer is not news to us and we couldn’t help, but hope that nature and trees Birmingham’s green spaces would continue to be appreciated for what they do – nurture our physical and mental wellbeing.

So instead of asking our friends and followers to join us outside we asked them to enjoy the outside and tell us about the wellbeing through their window.

It was a lovely moment in BTfL’s year when we received photos and words describing a green space or garden of individuals celebrating nature outside their window and how it was helping them through lockdown.

It was an insight into how nature does heal without us even being aware of it. It doesn’t matter whether it is one tree on your doorstep that you watched that same squirrel climb up every day, a window box where you grew herbs or a garden where wildlife thrives and trees bloom.

We then asked local school children to draw trees. It was an opportunity for students to study trees, their shapes, leaves, trunks and surrounding habitat and interpret it in some wonderful ways. The results were beautiful from some very talented students.


Along with the trees drawings we also undertook to Camera Obscura workshops as part of our HS2 funding programme. Here the children built their own pin hole camera via Zoom under the direction of Jo Gane, photography practitioner and funded by photography artist, Matthew Murray through his arts council funding.

Then the children captured images of trees and nature around their school grounds using a cardboard box, tracing paper and a small lens with magical results.

 

These projects ensured we kept in touch with schools and undertook artistic projects while we couldn’t plant trees. It was so successful we are now looking at organising a fuller arts and education programme during the summer months, so please watch this space.

And while lockdown was in full swing we said a sad goodbye to our Project Manager of 12-years, Jane Harding. Jane was leaving for pastures new, we were ad to see Jane go and wished her all the luck with her new adventures. Then we  welcomed our new Project Manager, Sophia Nasreisfahany.

An unusual and challenging time to join a busy project, but Sophia has settled brilliantly, bringing great ideas, lots of enthusiasm and a passion for trees that we all share.

We celebrated tree memories asking, committee members and followers to share a special memory about a tree, or indeed a special tree in their life.

It was another great insight into how trees bring such positivity, warm emotions and happy memories.

While we had more tine over the summer some committee members looked back at previous tree plantings going back 16-years.

It was an opportunity to celebrate these small woodlands thriving in areas where before we planted trees there was – nothing.

    

Seeing a wide variety of native and non-native trees growing in urban areas, providing a safe habitat for wildlife, cleaner air, reduced flooding and a much more beautiful landscape to enjoy – we felt a small swell of pride.

We have continued to promote the West Midland’s Combined Authority’s Virtual Forest too.

The West Midlands aims to increase tree canopy cover to 25 percent, to combat climate change, but we need your help to count the trees being planted.

So, if you click the link you can register the trees you have planted in your garden or anywhere else so we can get a better idea of just how many trees are growing in the West Midlands.

https://www.wmca.org.uk/what-we-do/environment/west-midlands-virtual-forest/

To continue the theme of arts, culture and trees we have recently began working with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

BTfL’s partnership with BCMG comes as the BCMG ensemble prepares for its concert, where it will perform, T R E E in Spring 2021.

T R E E will include the world premiere of Christian Mason’s new Sound Investment commission ‘The Singing Tree’, with text by Paul Griffiths, and ‘Concertini for ensemble’ by Helmut Lachenmann.

BCMG also plans to offer a wide range of resources and creative music-making activities for young people, related to environmental matters.

BCMG Artistic Director Stephan Meier comments, “During the past couple of years, a number of composers have told me of their intention to write music inspired by nature, trees in particular. We believe great art should grow from a sound relationship with nature; as I write, Christian Mason is busy composing a sort of oratorio in the shape of a tree, based on a libretto specifically written for this occasion by Paul Griffiths. We are delighted to partner with Birmingham Trees for Life as we prepare for the World Premiere of The Singing Tree, and I hope that our work together will ensure that the impact of this music goes way beyond the concert hall.”

Geoff Cole, Chairman of Birmingham Trees for Life, comments: “Trees are so important, especially in a large industrial city like Birmingham, and if we want less pollution, less flooding and cleaner air we simply have to plant more trees! By partnering with organisations around the city, including BCMG, we can help to get the message out about the importance of trees to our environment.”

We are excited at the prospect of working in conjunction with BCMG in Spring 2021. Working in local schools planting trees and undertaking educational engagement sessions to aid BCMG’s TREE legacy.

Our tree experts on the BTfL committee will also be lending their expertise and undertaking woodland walks with BCMG to learn all about the value of trees, especially in a large urban area like Birmingham.

And while we have been unable to plant trees we have been working towards finding other areas to plant trees to create small woodlands in areas that need greener areas for people to enjoy and a place for biodiversity to flourish – exciting times!

So, considering BTfL was stopped in its tracks like everybody else, we were forced to change, adapt and become more innovative. We continued to reach out digitally enabling people to engage with trees on a different level which has been a revelation for us.

So, we may have been and may still be physically distanced for a while – but socially we have stayed connected. And connection in these times of lockdown, isolation and sometimes loneliness,  connection is what we all of us need in bucket loads!

We would like say thank you to ur partners and funders  and to everyone who has supported BTfL-

   

It’s National Tree Week 28th November – 6th December 2020

Well it’s National Tree Week, the biggest celebration of trees in the UK. It’s  BTfL’s long awaited circle in the calendar.  In normal circumstances, we would be running arts and education sessions, tree bathing and enjoying nature walks and planting trees all  over Birmingham with our varied group of followers, supporters and many schools.

But this year is anything,  but normal.

If our planting season had gone to plan, we would be celebrating our 100,000th tree in the ground this season. But although it’s disappointing there is always next year!

So, tree week is a very different celebration this year, so just like we hug our trees here at BTfL, we are wrapping our arms around the new normal and celebrating in a different way.

As a very busy project we hardly get a moment to put our spades down and pause for breath or even celebrate what we’ve achieved over the last 14-years.

So, this year we wanted to look back and enjoy some of our previous plantings, with a view to what great things are in store in the future.

This pandemic has brought buzz words, ‘lockdown, face mask, Covid, isolation, test, track and trace and – wellbeing!

Wellbeing is something we’ve all had to think about and whether It’s our own, our family, friends or neighbour’s wellbeing is taking care of our emotional needs in these difficult times.

This year, wellbeing has been all about re-discovering nature. During lock down are movements were limited, so what did we do – we all went for a walk!

And with that walk came an even greater appreciation of our green spaces, parks and trees.

At the beginning of lock down we enjoyed the colour and vibrancy of spring blossom. These are trees we plant in built up areas, knowing that local-residents will enjoy the beautiful flowers and the snow flurry of delicate pink and white petals falling to the round as the blossom fades.

Then came the beautiful summer canopy cover when trees and their leaves bloom in to vibrant greens providing large canopies for us to shade under and gasp in wonder!

And during the second lockdown we have enjoyed all the drama of Autumn colour changes, with beautiful radiant reds, glowing orange, yellows and rusty browns of Liquid Amber,  Maple, Rowan and Oak to name just a few.

And even though winter has arrived our wonderful trees still look amazing with their super strength and structure of trunks and branches evolving into weird and wonderful shapes, and curves.

So here are some examples of established trees we’ve planted over the years for you to enjoy.

ChinnBrook Meadows, Billesley 2011-2012

  
This was a very special event as it marked the planting of BTFL’s 10,000th tree on 17th March 2011. The honour was given to the Lord and Lady Mayoress, Cllr and Mrs Gregory, and they were joined by the Chairman of The Birmingham Civic Society, David Clarke. They were not alone, as teenagers from Cockshutt Hill Technical College worked to help primary pupils from Our Lady of Lourdes plant well over 100 trees. These included 5 oaks & 5 alder, plus whips of alder, oak, field maple and small leaved lime. These trees are thriving in an already green area used by cyclists, ramblers, children, dog walkers, runners enjoying all the fresh air and beautiful greenery this areas has to offer.

Hazelwell Park, Strichley 2011- 2012  

   

Friends of Hazelwell Park, with help from the Ranger service, planted a number of fruit and nut trees in their local green space. The trees planted included eating, cooking and crab apples, plums, pears, cherry and of course giant hazels. The project has helped turn a neglected area of the park into a community orchard and increased the foraging potential throughout. The trees will increase biodiversity in the area when insects like bees will be encouraged there by the flowering trees and help pollinate them. The planning and planting of an edible park in an urban area presented the Friends group with a new and challenging project. The group is now looking forward to learning how to care for their trees and in the future a fruitful harvest.

Victoria Common, Northfield 2011-2011 

   

BTFL has filled gaps in an avenue along the main path with flowering hawthorns and cherries and increased the park’s tree collection with an Indian bean tree and a foxglove tree.  The Friends of the park were, on the same day, busy creating a new orchard, also through Big Tree Plant funding. A very busy and well loved park used by the local schoolchildren form St Laurence’s Junior and Infant School which is on the parks doorstep. In the summer locals take full advantaged the shade these trees bring, adding to an already diverse and unusual collection of native native British trees and none native trees. 

Trittiford Mill, Billesley 2009 -2010

     

The rain didn’t deter the pupils of Our Lady of Lourdes Junior School. With the help of their teachers, Ranger Adam Noon, Councillor Axeford, her husband, and Geoff and Jane from BTFL, they successfully planted 10 large trees at Trittiford Park.  They all went back to school very muddy but happy, and keen to know when they could come again!  Pupils and teachers have promised to keep an eye on the trees. Trittiford Mil Park is dominated by a large lake with a path weaving’s way around the water. With little open space it, BTfL found enough it to plant some trees and watch them grow into beautiful young specimens, here today.

Daisy Farm Park 2009- 2010

   

The Friends of Daisy Farm Park and the local Ranger Adam Noon planted 181 mixed whips at Daisy Farm Park as part of the BBC’s World Record attempt on Saturday 5th December.  Oak, Hazel, Hawthorn, Ash, and Field Maple were planted to fill gaps in an existing hedgerow and to further extend the wooded area. In addition, a small grey alder was planted in a waterlogged corner of the playing field. Now it’s looking like a small healthy woodland all of it’s own. Along a busy road with lots of residential areas this small woodland is helping purify the air and provides a wonderful environment for wildlife to thrive.

Kings Norton Park 2017 – 2018

   

Once again we helped the Friends of Kings Norton Park to continue establishing an avenue of beautiful Redwoods with support from a Birmingham resident, Luc, who also came along to help to plant the trees. We were also joined in the mud by two local families. The trees we previously planted have established well so we hope that in a few years the avenue will really start to take shape as the trees mature. This park is part of the history of the Birmingham Civic Society too so it was one of our Centenary plantings.

Grove Park, Harborne 2006 -2007

 

BTfL planted standard oak trees, with a number of happy volunteers,enjpying the ray weather, and odd ray of sunshine.  Now they are looking extremely healthy and their acorns have produced young plants at the edge of their canopy.  You can see that the mowing regime in the park has cut swathes through the grass.

Queens Park, Harborne 2017 – 2018

In partnership with Trees for Cities this planting involved several teams of volunteers and each one had to identify a tree in the storage facility, read a map to find out where its location should be, move it to the planting site (wheelbarrows to the ready) and then dig a large planting hole.
After planting the tree, they were asked to add stakes and ties and finally mulch around the base. Trees for Cities had mobilised over 30 volunteers from various organisations to assist us, pupils from nearby Baskerville School also helped, as did some local residents.

Two years later, the trees are very well established. This Liquidambar vigorous, healthy leaf growth in May this year. The couple have been proudly back to see it several times!’

Note the red brick building in the background showing the tree being planted and now the trees well established and looking wonderfully healthy.

Reminiscing about these events is only a tiny handful of the hundreds of planting events we done over the years. So far 6000 children and volunteers have planted over 90,000  trees and counting.

We are happy at the progress ours/your trees are making and revel in the knowledge that almost every child, volunteer, teacher, environmental group, corporate sponsor, friends and family member, or any individual who has ever planted a tree with us – will in the future point, smile and say, ‘there’s my tree!

It’s a legacy that stays with everyone that has dug that hole, placed that tree inside the hole and stomped down the soil to keep that tree in place.

Despite this terrible pandemic we hope that lockdown has given us all more time  to engage with nature and trees. Like BTfL does this year in and year out.  Because planting trees is good for physical and emotional wellbeing, allows children and adults to become part of a tree planting legacy, improve their local environment, investing in the local area, empowering children and nurturing civic pride.

Every new tree planted in Birmingham is an environmental legacy. Children engage on an enthusiastic level with the tree planting and take ownership over the trees they have planted. Trees that in 20-years-time students and your school can re-visit and see their trees thriving.

So when lockdown is over and we get back to what we consider normal we will be looking to the future, to planting 90,000 more trees and never forgetting how important trees were to people during lockdown and hoping that the little space in your heart you made for trees and nature  during those sunny walks in lockdown 2020  will continue grow just like our wonderful trees!

We Turned the World Upside Down – It Looks Beautiful!

‘Please can we have another one?’ That was the request from St Matthew’s Church of England School in Nechells, Birmingham on the prospect of a second Camera Obscura workshop.

We completed our first zoom Camera Obscura workshop during the summer lockdown. Year Six students enjoyed the logistical challenges of making their own Camera Obscura, then capturing images on it.

The message from the deputy, head teacher, Tracey Adams, was we’d love to do another one in the future.

So, Tracey your wish is our command.

This time we worked with 27 year-five students, the classroom was full of eager students scissors and sellotape in hand raring to go.

The first question was, ‘do we have any students who accompanied us on our tree planting last season?’

At least 15 hands shot up with beaming smiles its testament to that a lovely morning planting flowering cherry tree amongst others in a large communal garden surrounded by flats and maisonettes near to St Matthew’s Church of England School where some of the children lived.

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.

The workshop started and the children listened intently to the zoom tutorial by Jo. Mrs. Pringle the class teacher busily rebounded from one student to the next helping them cut cardboard, stick tracing paper and watch their simplistic cardboard camera gradually came to life.

Working with a generation that has been completely immersed in communications technology and where phones and the internet at the forefront of learning, social interaction, entertainment and school and work. A homemade camera made from bits of craft is a million miles from anything the student had known before, but all the same it was fun, refreshing, creative and artistic.

Once the cameras had been made images quickly started to be captured through their homemade lenses.

There was a gasp of ‘wow!’ The children placed the camera in front of their faces and there was a sudden urge for all the students to turn their cameras upside down.

That’s because the image projected is upside down and works very much like the workings of the human eye.

Thankfully it was a sunny day so the sunlight highlighted white images particularly well.

We agreed that to capture images of beech trees, with their distinctive white bark would be particularly dramatic.

We know that the children will take their cameras home share the wonderful workings of their camera obscura’s with their family and friends and capture images of trees, nature, wildlife and autumn foliage.

We can’t wait to see the wonderful results of how year five at St Matthew’s Church of England school turned the world upside down and made it look captivating, enchanting and beautiful.

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!

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

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

 

If Only BTfL Could Bottle The Enthusiasm For Trees At Our Planting Events!

Well we had scorned the wet weather, then we hoped for better weather, then we got dry weather! The seemingly endless rain had blighted some of our previous planting plans – but not today and the lovely sunshine got us back out where we belong – outside, planting trees.

Not only did we combat the mud to plant 1000 whips at Sycamore Recreation Ground along the River Cole we did it with 26 super-enthusiastic children from Waverley Junior School and four members of school staff, along with 40 wonderful volunteers, six from Lloyds Bank, six from HSBC UK, seven from HMRC, nine from the West Midlands Combined Authority, five Birmingham University, and seven from the Green Welfare Force. We were also joined by the BBC Radio Four Open Country radio show that recorded a programme about our urban tree planting – great company, we know!

After much anticipation, the sodden ground was sodden, but not so sodden it stopped us in our tracks! After the dedicated Woodland team had mole ploughed along the Recreation Ground we all took our spades and grabbed a handful of whips and in pairs planted, a soon to be beautiful woodland.

The reason the woodland is being planted is to improve the environment for the local community, improve the city’s tree canopy cover and reduce flooding on the recreation ground which is a flood plain. Only a few weeks ago the area was like a small lake due to the amount of rain that had fallen. Denying footie matches, dog walking, jogging, walking, kick abouts’, pondering, games of tag and nature trails.

       

Many of the children from the Waverley school group use the recreation ground regularly and they showed so much enthusiasm we wondered how we might be able to bottle it. Led by a wonderful team of four school staff members, in pairs the children began, in earnest to plant.  ‘I love being outside it makes me so happy to be doing this,’ said Atif a wonderful year four student working hard with his spade in hand. ‘I know when we plant these trees were leaving a positive mark on our community and our environment.’

Another student, Aisha remarked, it’s good to be outside in groups.’ Pointing to Atik, Aisha said, ‘we are in the same class and never talk to each other, but out here working together we are getting to know each other which is a nice thing to do.’ Aisha is right. We always consider every tree planting we undertake as a social occasion where a dynamic mix of different people get together and share a wonderfully productive hour or two!

The children were eager to point north, east, south and west, exclaiming that they lived one road away, around the corner, up the road from where we had planted this wonderful woodland. Some of the children were eager to let their friends and family know that they had planted trees today. ‘When I tell my sister that I’ve help plant 1000 trees today she won’t believe me because that’s huge!’ one beaming student explained.

     

All our volunteers worked with the children and by their huge grins we knew they were enjoying themselves, ‘it’ so good to get out in the fresh air…, what a lovely way to spend a morning…, when can we do this again…?’

We love it when our volunteers exude so much passion for this wonderful cause to make Birmingham greener, then greener and then a little bit more green! And as we all stood proudly for a photo call at the end of the planting everyone shouted trees – not cheese! And as we share in a biscuit and a lovely cup of tea we all chatted excitedly about this tree planting and the next one!

As ever would like to say a huge thank you to everyone that attended. Your company, your enthusiasm, your hard work and your tree planting legacy are never taken for granted. And who knew, getting muddy, pulling muscles we never knew we had, ankle deep in dirt, really can be a whole lot of fun!

A huge thanks to the Halpin Trust for funding this tree planting 

 

Please check out the photo album for this planting, here

Somerville School Brought Some Somerville Sunshine to Our Tree Planting!

Well, it was a smaller tree planting today, six trees today and a small group of six wonderfully excited year four, five and six students from Somerville School. These students and Somerville School were clearly ahead of the game as they pointed out six trees that the school had already planted at the entrance to school reception. We were very impressed.

On our walk to site the children told us that some of them were part of the Eco Council and enjoyed litter picking in their local area, connecting with nature, bird watching and had even been to a youth summit about climate change.  They also tended a fruit orchard at Bordesely Green Allotments – good work indeed! Second fact of the day the children were missing maths to plant trees – Hurrah, we all cheered.

The children paired up and chose a tree, Nadia and Ikram were raring to go and enjoyed listening to facts about the cherry tree they were planting. While Nadia worked methodically Ikram worked quickly enjoying throwing, ‘big scoops’ of soil in the hole for the tree. But it was team work and it worked well. Ikram was very proud to tell us he was part of the school Eco Council and worked hard designing posters about litter and reducing our car use.

Danish and Habib two young men working so hard they worked up a sweat and even on such a cold February morning took their coats off and shovelled in the soil to secure their trees. ‘It feels very grown up to plant a tree, but it also feels really nice.’ They smiled. We agreed that it always feels nice to plant a tree and there is no better way to lift a mood than to go outside, dig a hole, plant a tree and watch it grow! The students clearly loved being outside and getting muddy on a very small patch of greenery at the end of a residential road. Avis, the teacher said, ‘I walk past here a lot and I’ve never even noticed this piece of land, but I will notice it now we’ve planted some lovely trees here.’

   

At the end of the tree planting the children stood back and looked at their good work and there was a feel of distinct satisfaction at seeing their trees standing tall and settling in. Then we examined a piece of tree trunk cut about three inches thick, studying the rings and counting them on the inside of the tree trunk we worked out it was about 15-years-old. It was a lovely morning with lots of positivity in a very mall green pace. It proves that we never need a super big space to plant a tree, just the love and determination to get such a great job done!

While we worked hard planting we heard a good tree joke from one of the students. ‘What did the bee say to the tree on its return from work!’ ‘Hi Honey, I’m Home!’ Boom Boom! We like to end the our tree planting mornings with a smile and we certainly did today!

Please check out the photo album for this panting event here

Testimonial from Denise Macdonald, teacher at Somrville School, “We had a lovely morning planting trees with BTfL and we are really keen to continue our links with you and would jump at the chance of planting more trees!”

‘Trees are the Earth’s Lungs – The Best Thing We Can Do Is Plant More Trees.’

As BTfL waited patiently in the super sunlit staffroom of St Matthew’s Church of England School for 14 year-nine children to arrive, we didn’t think it couldn’t get any sunnier. Until these lovely smiley children arrived, which made the room brighter than ever. Ready for the off to our local tree planting site at Northumberland Street, Nechells the children wore a very impressive array of very swanky wellies. We were very impressed!

Hands up, excitedly with lots of questions and facts to share about trees, it was clear these children were happy and enthusiastic, eager to help improve the air quality and aesthetics of their local area by planting trees! ‘Trees are the earth’s lungs, we need them, so it’s good to plant more and more,’ one student explained. ‘It’s the best thing we can all do for the environment,’ another student exclaimed. ‘The world needs many more trees,’ came another student. Well we couldn’t agree more and were inspire by their wonderful statements about trees.

A five-minute walk to site we pointed our previous planting site at Barrack Street Recreation Ground in November, the trees looked right at home, just like todays will too.                                                                                                                 The children arrived at site paired up into two’s and quickly assigned themselves a tree. Standing to attention spades in and the children were eager to start digging. It transpired that one of the children, Michael lived right next to the trees and could see them out of his window. ‘Well, Michael, we are trusting you will talk to the trees and look after them as their closest guardian.’ Michael looked very proud and gave us an enthusiastic nod as he pointed to where he lived knowing he would have a lovely view of the trees and would see them grown and change each season.

The trees we planted are two Acer freemanii ‘Autumn Blaze’ (maple), two Betula albosinensis ‘Fascination (Chinese silver birch) and threeMagnolia kobus (magnolia with white flowers which are great for absorbing pollutants). And Michael and all the other residents would see some vibrant colour in the Autumn and beautiful flowers in the Summer.
 

As the children planted the chose names for their trees, one name stood out, ‘the tree of life,’ because planting a tree is the most important thing we can do for the environment and everyone’s life! In fact, two of the children were so impressed with planting trees they decided they would add a photograph of their tree planting to a time capsule and a memory box they had made to remind them and other people in the future of all the wonderful things they had achieved in life. Planting a tree is one of them!

‘When I grow up I am going to bring my husband and children to see these beautiful trees and I can tell them proudly I planted these trees, they kind of belong to me!’ one student told us. She was right of course; these wonderful trees will be here for many years to come – and these wonderful trees belong to all of us and we should love and appreciate everything they do. Only ever giving and never taking away!

 

There were so many wonderful conversations about trees and the children suddenly had an epiphany – we can dig, chat, laugh, stomp and straighten the tree all at the same time! So we also learnt an important lesson too – that multi-tasking really can be fun!

Please check out the photo album for this event, here

Testimonial from Tracey Adams, Deputy Head Teacher, ” We had a wonderful morning tree planting with BTfL and we would love to be involved again – Year four loved it so much because it is a forever experience and a memory to cherish.”