Tag: Community. Friends Groups.

Hello – We Are The Friends of Swanshurst Park

Once used as common grazing land, then bought by the council and designed by Henry Giles as a fishing pool Swanshurst Park has been a well-loved green space for nearly 100-years. Once including a busy boating lake and mini golf course the park lies between Billesley and Moseley in the south of Birmingham.

Swanshurst Park has always been a well-loved green space and while there have been lots of changes at Swanshurst Park over the years one thing has always been central to it – people.

That love transcended into action when the idea of a Friends of Swanshurst Park Group was discussed – and within just six weeks there were over 20 members and a growing list of local people wanting to help nurture their local park. Hamira Sultan came up with the idea of starting a friends group and has been wowed by the whirlwind of interest and pledges from local people to keep Swanshurst Park looking functional, beautiful and central to its community.

Hamira, a mum of one and works for Future Parks Accelerator as the Director of Naturally Birmingham www.futureparks.org.uk and a Public Health Consultant lives in Moseley.

   

Hamira says: Swanshurst Park backs onto my garden and I feel lucky that it is so accessible to my family and me. As a child, I was brought up in Perry Barr, there weren’t many parks and certainly none within walking distance of my home. My family never had a car so I never got to enjoy parks as a child. I didn’t like getting dirty and even as a young adult I had no interest in gardens or gardening so I bought a flat, not a house.

When I moved to Moseley four-years-ago suddenly I had a garden and a park to enjoy. I was surrounded by nature – I had no idea what I’d been missing!

When my son, Esa, (now aged-four) was born I started to understand the value of green spaces and nature. I learnt to ride a bike with my son in Swanshurst Park, I enjoyed the playground and the swings for the first time and realised we were connecting with nature together- a first for both of us.

We started building lots of happy memories in that park – and it is all about building memories. If we all stop and think for a moment when asked, ‘what’s your favourite park?’ There will always be an impassioned response and a story to tell. Now it’s difficult to keep myself and my family away from the park. Whatever the weather we are out bike riding, on nature trails, in the playground or spotting birds around the lake.’

Hamira’s job at Future Parks Accelerator is committed to making all parks and green spaces more accessible. The aim, to have better management of parks and green spaces, ensure the community have greater wellbeing because of their local green spaces, a wider demographic of the community become involved in their parks and green spaces and that the local area will be a better place to work, live and visit because of these green spaces.

Hamira spends a great deal of her spare time promoting, improving and enjoying Swanshurst Park along with 23 volunteers and counting – making the park look wonderful and accessible. Hamira says: “We want to encourage more people to engage with their parks and access the great green spaces around them regularly. Not just see their park as a place to visit, but a place to invest in. For children and adults to connect with nature, to understand the value of their green space and to love it. For it to be an extension of their home.

So, last November I started thinking about starting a Friends of Swanshurst Park Group. I put the word out and the response was brilliant. After some insight and advice from BOSF I set about putting my ideas into action. It’s been nearly four months and we have wonderful group of volunteers with a varied pool of skills to share, teachers, community workers, people with local knowledge who have lived in the area for years.

One of our most eager volunteers is Esa, he will come on litter picks, he checks on the birdlife around the pond with me. He understands about the wild flowers in the park and how we should leave them to bloom and not pick them.  He helps with our organisation of nature trails. He knows the names and types trees in the park.

We now have regular litter picks (within COVID-19 restrictions), we’ve tidied up the signs to the park, asking people to park their cars responsibly and safely. We are now running education sessions for children and adults and encouraging engagement from the local community.

It can be disheartening when we see litter strewn inter park or bins over-spilling with rubbish. As much as it upsets me, I try to think that if there is litter in the park, there are people in the park and if there are people in the park they are benefitting physically and emotionally from it. Not everyone is brought up with the same insights about littering or social expectations so we try not to lecture people, rather show how much more lovely the park is if we all contribute a little to keeping it clean and tidy. And now with every new visit to the park, I notice more joggers, cyclists, dog walkers, families, people playing football, exercising and enjoying nature.

We have big plans for our park and we are applying for community funding to maybe put a wild meadow in our park, have more educational workshops and have youth workers engaging with the children who use the park. We have members who are coming up with some great ideas for people to access nature in the park and for us to nurture young advocates for our park, so the message will filter through children, parents, grandparents and so on.

We know our park is seeing more interaction and a lot of positive feedback about the work we are doing. And we ask if you are interested in becoming a member of the Friends of Swanshurst Park group we will always welcome your input and interest in the park. The park means different things to different people. Whether it’s a socially distanced chat on a park bench, part of a rambling trail, dog walking route or regular play date – or even a quiet space to sit and unwind. One in eight British homes does not have a garden, so parks are more important than ever. So while you might need your park – never forget your park also needs you! If you are interested in the work of the Friends Swanshurst Park or would like to become a member please follow or contact them on social media –

Facebook -Friends of Swanshurt Park 

Instagram – friends_of_swanshurst_park  

Twitter – @FOSwanshurst

e – swanshurstpark@gmail.com 

 

 

The Urban Tree and the Birmingham Trees for Life Legacy

Here is a blog celebrating the urban tree in Birmingham written for Birmingham Contemporary Music Group @BCMG please enjoy.

Look around you wherever you go – outside your front door, the local park, a city street, your nearest school, or community space, your garden, your neighbour’s garden. Trees are never far from your eye-line wherever you go or wherever you are.

Imagine just for a moment your city, town, village or local area without trees and green spaces! It would be sparse, grey and lifeless. All concrete, straight lines and angles, no birds chirping, no blossom blooming, no beautiful green canopy cover or vibrant autumnal colour.

Not only would we miss trees’ huge environmental impact, their positive effect on our air quality, health, wellbeing, and on wildlife – we’d miss out on their beauty!

Trees have never been more important, and their value can never be over-estimated. It’s a message Birmingham Trees for Life repeats every year.

Birmingham Trees for Life has been a small, pragmatic project achieving great things in the city of Birmingham for 14-years. If you live in Birmingham, it’s almost guaranteed that at least one of the trees in your local park or green space has been planted by Birmingham Trees for Life.

In that time, we have planted over 90,000 trees in parks and green spaces, and worked with over 6000 volunteers including thousands of school children. We plant between 7000 and 10,000 trees a year during tree planting season, between November and March. As every new tree planting season starts, we bed down our beautiful standard trees in urban spaces, work with school children and volunteers planting thousands of whips.

We watch as these wonderful woodlands grow, encouraging biodiversity, adding colour and canopy cover and we appreciate their beauty, environmental legacy and positive impact on our physical and emotional wellbeing. Not only that, the impact of green spaces on the city’s economy is worth £11-billion.

Trees absorb CO2, produce oxygen and support biodiversity. Trees reduce flooding, cool hot cities, absorb pollutants, provide a food source for people and wildlife and reduce noise in built up areas. They also provide shade and shelter. One mature tree can absorb 48lbs of CO2 per year. Multiply that by 90,000 and you have an epic figure, resulting in a legacy that BTfL is very proud of!

What we and every individual or community we work with do is create a tree legacy!

But it’s not just about planting trees, it’s about involving the great people of Birmingham in everything we do. Whether you are a school, community group, volunteer, stakeholder or sponsor we embrace and celebrate your support.

Children and adults have planted trees with us in the sunshine and in the pouring rain. Not even the worst weather dampens their spirits nor ours because we all understand that every tree planted is a legacy, helping save the environment one tree at a time.

When we plant a tree, we feel a sense of empowerment, of ownership, of humility – it’s therapy!

We believe that so many people in Birmingham have been part of the BTfL legacy that it’s like six degrees of separation – you might not have planted a tree with us yet, but you probably know someone that has! And if you haven’t planted a tree with BTfL yet, you can always plant a tree of your own. Here at BTfL we live and work by the mantra “ask what you can do – pledge to plant a tree or two!”

As one of our 10-year-old volunteers from St Matthew’s Church of England School said, “trees are the earth’s lungs and we have to keep planting them”. So we do!

In addition to planting trees, at BTfL we also enjoy forging new working relationships – one of which is with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group as they prepare for their T R E E concert in the Spring.

Geoff Cole, Chairman of Birmingham Trees for Life says: “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.”

Our partnerships across the city with artists, poets, musicians and educators help spread the message about how important it is to nurture nature, from planting trees and celebrating trees through digging holes and bedding down our saplings to art, singing, writing, drawing and composing!

And every new tree planted, every new partnership, linked or joint community venture achieved is helping BTfL celebrate that Birmingham is one of the greenest cities in Europe. The city has 571 parks totalling over 14-square miles of public open space, more than any other equivalent sized European city.

Birmingham boasts over one million trees – as many as the population of the city!

Who would have thought it: Birmingham, central to the industrial revolution could be a green beacon of environmental greatness for its population. So much so that only last year Birmingham earned the international accolade of becoming a Tree City of the World!

To become a tree city of the world, Birmingham had to meet five core standards – establish responsibility; set the rules; know what you have; allocate the resources; and celebrate achievements. Birmingham Trees for Life worked closely with the City Council to review the city’s tree policy going some way in meeting the requirements of becoming a Tree City of the World.

As each new tree planting season approaches BTfL pays attention to increasing tree planting in inner city areas where air is more polluted. By filtering polluted air, reducing chemical smog formation, shading out harmful solar radiation and providing an attractive, calming setting for recreation, trees can have a positive effect on the incidence of asthma, skin cancer and many stress related illnesses. The positive effects of the green environment, especially trees, on mental health are now well-documented, especially since lockdown.

Humans have evolved to live in harmony with the natural environment – when we are deprived of contact with it, our mental and physical health suffer – and the benefits are for everyone.

Planting trees does everyone in the city and the world a very big favour. What could feel better than that? We know – planting another tree!

So never underestimate the urban tree. Whether it stands alone on a street corner, is rooted in your garden or blossoms beautifully in your local park.

Love that tree and appreciate that tree; celebrate that tree and better still – plant a tree!

Because a world without trees is a world without lungs and a world without lungs is a world with no future!

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!

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

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

 

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.”

 

 

Its All About the Trees and We’re All About the Trees!

We’re a ‘can do’ organisation driven by the desire to build a ‘can do’ generation with the ability to turn ideas into reality.

This is the mission statement of Envision, a Birmingham Charity 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.

   

Choosing the environment as a core issue Envision approached four leading environmental charities in Birmingham to work with students promoting an environmental message, and developing a project. BTfL is proud to be one of them. It is a 13-week Community-Apprentice programme in schools across Birmingham raising awareness and funds for the charity of their choice.  BTfL were lucky enough to be chosen by King Edward Boys School in Aston and we had the pleasure of meeting the team this week and hearing all their exciting ideas.

Asking the group of 15-year nine students what made them want to wave the flag for BtfL. A simple question, with a simple answer, ‘It’s all about the trees.’ We totally agree! Trees have never been more important on the political, social and environmental agenda. And these wonderful students know it. The class listened to our presentation proudly wearing their BTfL badges.

      We started with a holistic approach asking the class to close their eyes for one minute and think of a positive experience in a green space they had as a younger child. Daniel, the team leader took charge ensuring very class members had their eyes closed so they could concentrate fully. There was a beautiful intense silence! Then came a stream of thoughts, forest school, survival school, being left in the park for five minutes after my parents forgot me, climbing and falling out of a tree, playing football, sport day! There was a sudden animation in the group as they remembered all their positive experiences in green spaces. It was lovely to watch.

We explained the students about the value of spending time around nature. It’s positive affect on our emotional and physical wellbeing. In-fact studies show that if we don’t spend time outdoors reconnecting with nature we experience Nature’s Deficit Disorder! A noticeable decline in our physical and emotional wellbeing. The answer – go outside and enjoy what nature has to offer!

‘We need more trees, it’s all about the trees, we have to plant millions more, we love and respect trees….’ The students explained. We loved their enthusiasm and explained that planting a tree is a selfless thing, planting a tree make you a good ancestor! A person planting a tree right now has nothing to gain from that tree. It’s future generations that will benefit from everything a tree can offer. It inspired the students to start writing down idea about how we can continue to get the younger generation excited about tree planting.

‘Planting trees in schools, having a mascot, a message/mission statement in an acorn, watch a seed grow from scratch, revisit the trees planted again and again.’ Ideas were thrown about the room thick and fast and as we finished our presentation and group work we understood that this class is committed to conveying a very positive message about the importance of trees and tree planting.

We are looking forward to seeing their creative ideas and celebrating a different perspective! Enjoying what the students have to offer and absorbing their positivity and enthusiasm.Because as the class quite rightly stated, ‘It’s all about the trees and we’re all about the trees!’

Five Trees planted at Penshurst Avenue – “Only 20 million More to Go!”

Well what a wonderful morning we had with 14 smiley Year Four pupils from Birchfield Community School in Aston. Proudly wearing their Birchfield Community School high vis jackets the children were well and truly prepared for our tree planting event at a small housing estate called Penshurst Avenue in Aston. Wellies on, check…., coats zipped up, check…., hats secure, check….. And off we went! Sunshine…. Check…., well  err we can’t have everything, but at least it wasn’t raining!

   

The children like all our other amazing eco-warriors we work with knew lots about the environmental value of trees and couldn’t wait to share their knowledge with us as we took the ten-minute walk from school to site. There were five trees to be planted and all the children were very excited about the prospect of planting their very first tree. The trees being planted were Hornbeam, which grows taller and narrower, picked specifically to be planted outside residential homes to avoid blocking out any light to residents homes. The second species we planted was the Silver Lime tree. This tree grows wider but was planted in more open areas.

The benefit of these trees that will nestling right next the very busy A34 dual carriageway. A very busy road with lots of congestion. These trees will help absorb the CO2 produced and add some lovely colour and foliage for resident to enjoy during the summer months.

The children eager to get going split into groups of three and put all their strength into dropping the soil around the tree in its new home. Five groups all working hard in their teams, sharing the workload and enjoying the cold but refreshing weather. ‘What are the plastic bits on the bottom of the tree for,’ one student asked. We explained that these loosely fitted plastic casings protected the trees trunk and bark from the damage a strimmer could do, ensuring the tree stays in the best health possible and damage free.

  While working together we could see there is a great sense of community in the area, passers-by waving and saying hello to the students, one shouting, ‘hey everyone, only 20-million more trees to plant, after that one, well done…’ ‘And then 20 million more after that!’ We shouted back.

The children worked exceptionally hard and didn’t stop at just planting, no, some of the children had collected some pebble along the way to decorate the bottom of the tree. ‘It’s tree jewellery, it looks nice! ‘One of the children said enthusiastically.

   

The children were very proud as they looked up at the trees they had planted. ‘Remember these are you trees, to enjoy and be talked about to all the people you know,’ we explained. ‘Yes!’ All the children agreed smiling. It was nice to finish our tree planting understanding that these children had just learned the wonderful value of trees, lessons they will take home and share with friends and family. A lesson all the children at our tree planting event recognise and value. And it’s a lesson none of us should ever stop learning! Please check out the photo album for this tree planting, here