Tag: Community. Friends Groups.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there are other benefits too.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

It’s National Gardening Week – Go Get Grubby!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Earth Day 2020 – 50 Years of Positive Action!

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

Talk about Green Team – We Mean The Dream Team!

Well what a heady mix of interesting and amazing talent we had today at our tree planting. Where we planted at two sites on local housing land in Stockland Green. We were honoured today to welcome Stockland Green School and their Eco Council, the Green Team from Deutsche Bank, Birmingham and Birmingham’s Poet Laureate Richard O’ Brien. We were also accompanied by local councillor for the Bromford and Hodge Hill Ward, Diane Donaldson and her beautiful rescue dog, Gucci! After a chat with the eight students from Stockland Green School they had a very clear mandate for their local environment. ‘We really wanted to plant trees as we know how important they are to our environment and our health.’

‘We want our school to do more recycling, we want new bins and we want our school to ditch plastic, we campaigned for the school to get rid of plastic cutlery and we are well on the way to doing that.’ The students explained proudly. Next on the list is for Stockland Green School is to be free of plastic bottles, we can’t wait to hear about their progress.

 Walking to the site from Stockland Green School to the planting site the students noticed just how many trees lined the buy streets and dual carriageway, reducing CO2 and noise, acting as screening and looking beautiful. The students were eager to get planting on the first of two sites on housing land at Scafell Lane opposite Bleak Hill Allotments. Not only did they fill the holes, but with the help of the seven wonderful Deutsche Bank Green Team volunteers they dug the holes too.

We planted three varieties of crab apple tree today, ‘can you make a crumble with those apples? One student asked. We didn’t think it would taste that nice, but instead making a jelly or a jam might be preferable, but the real reason crab apples were chosen, because wildlife love them. The blossom is beautiful too.

Richard O’ Brien, Birmingham’s Poet Laureate was enjoying tree planting too, stating that it was the first time he had ever planted a tree – well Richard we hope and we are quite sure it won’t be your last!  As adults and younger students buddied up to plant the trees there was lots of chatter and lots of hard work. Digging, shovelling, stomping on the soil was quite a rhythmic and pragmatic approach to the planting, working as a team and admiring the trees that they had just planted.

After a quick de-brief, we all took the lovely walk across Witton Lakes to our second planting site, at Faulkners Farm Drive. There was plenty of wildlife and beautiful trees to look at as we chatted while walking. Our tree planting included Liquidamber Trees, that will provide beautiful striking colour in the Autumn months. Nestling the trees amongst the residential flats dotted here and there was a wonderful way of introducing trees, where there were none before.

There was lots of interest from local-residents and were pleased to hear that they would have something beautiful to enjoy in the autumn as well as the local wildlife. It was smiles all round as we finished planting the final tree with a feeling that we had achieved something lovely which of course together as the green, dream team we have!  You see planting trees can make you happy, planting trees make you calm and relaxed, planting trees is a community exercise, planting trees provides you with your own personal environmental legacy and planting trees can be cathartic. So, we say go and plant a tree! It will do you and your planet the world of good! Please check out the photo album for this blog here 

 

Testimonial from Catherine Harding, teacher from Stockland Green School – “I just wanted to say how wonderful this morning was! Being involved in the tree planting this morning has really opened our eyes to the importance of trees, and the students are really keen to watch them grow! So nice to be part  of a legacy in the community thee students live! ”

Poem about Tree planting at Stockland Green by Richard O’ Brien, Birmingham’s Poet Laureate

 

We Need All The Trees We Can Get   

After some training, even I can carve

a perfect New York pizza slice of turf,

but underneath this thin green strip

there’s levels of resistance:        see Chris switch,

one earphone in (a podcast; MMA)

from spade to fork,

mattock to wrecking bar,

and plunge and plunge and plunge

into the shallow store

of rubble.

 

‘Sometimes there’s more brick than soil,’

somebody says:

‘you want more soil than brick.’

 

And Chris, who graciously explained

what sets apart a shovel from a spade:

‘I’m just here to dig holes;

don’t get involved in any politics.’

 

The grass on turf put back

the wrong way up competing with

the new root-ball for water,

 

while a lady from the bank

takes black bags home to plant courgettes —

 

a quieter second life, having already

yielded to the Wyrley Birch Estate

their load of liquidambar.

 

Walking back to the car, we pass a stand

of beech and ash trees that long since outgrew

the schoolchildren whose job was treading flat

the earth around them ten years earlier