Tag: nature

Review of the BTfL Year 2019 – 2020

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

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

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

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

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

    

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

Tree Memories, Favourite Trees, Tree Legacy!

As every new tree planting season starts and we bed down our beautiful standard trees in urban spaces, work with volunteers planting 1000’s of whips and watch as these wonderful woodlands grow, encouraging biodiversity, added colour and canopy cover, we appreciate trees, their beauty, environmental legacy impact on the economy and our physical and emotional wellbeing.

But what about our personal tree memories, our favourite tree, how trees have the power conjure a certain emotion or feeling.

If we stop for a moment and think about it, many tree memories start in childhood, climbing that gnarly old twisted willow tree, the joy of picking fruit from a tree in a garden, relaxing in the shade under that same tree on a hot summers day, sitting a well-worn tree stump, the hypnotic sun dappled patterns of leaf shadows dancing on the ground or even sitting with a pen and paper and drawing a tree as a child!

BTfL asked supporters, followers and volunteers about their tree memories, favourite tree and the response was wide and varied. One thing was clear all tree talk was, joyous impassioned and emotive. Illustrating that trees nurture our emotions as well as health and our surroundings, so here are some for you to enjoy!

Viv Astling, BTfL Committee Member and former Chairman of the National Forest Company – 

The tree I have chosen is one I look out on every day. Its an Oak and it is on the edge of a small green outside my house. We moved here over 45-years ago and the oak tree was more or less as it is today. Perhaps its well over 100 years old. It has had some major surgery over the decades under the watchful eye of the local residents (including me) which has enabled the tree to retain its shape and vigour.

At the millennium there was discussion about planting another tree funded by the residents but nothing happened. In the absence of collective action, my wife rang the City Council and asked for more trees and they appropriately planted three more oaks. So we have a green with four oaks. That was at a time when the Council had a tree planting budget.

The tree is frequently used in the Summer as a stopping off place on the way home by children from the nearby school as it gives great shade and the soil round the tree forms a slope for lounging. Sometimes its the place for leaving coats and bags during a game of football. The tree presides over the green with some authority and the three newcomers have a great role model for their future development. I have no doubt it will outlive me and continue to provide pleasure and comfort by just being there and filling the skyline.

 

Nicola Folbigg, Forest School, Warley Woods – 

My favourite tree a beech tree at the top of Warley Woods near the entrance by Upper St Marys in Bearwood.

I love the beech trees of Warley Woods. This tree is one I see every day when I walk my dog. I’ve walked in this park since I moved to Bearwood over 10 years ago. Beech trees are grand and the colours throughout the season are beautiful.

It is calming and grounds you when you walk past this tree. I remember the fairy tale book my mum used to read to me, it had fairy tree houses amongst the Beech trees, so I’ve always loved looking up into the canopy. I could never tire of the woods and trees and my wonderful job which allows me to work in among the trees everyday as a forest school teacher.

Geoff Cole, Chairman of Birmingham Trees for Life and formerly Assistant Director, Parks, Sports & Events at Birmingham City Council  

I have seen amazing trees in amazing places, but my favourite tree is Betula Ermanii Polar Bear, (White Barked Birch) in my back garden. 10 years in my garden and it’s thriving. With it’s amazing white winter bark, large glossy green leaves and ‘Lamb’s Tail,’ catkins it’s the first tree I see every morning and the last tree I see each night. It reminds me of every changing season and is truly a thing of beauty.

 

Simon Gulliver, volunteer member and  horticulturalist and Gardens & Parks Consultant, National Trust –

I thought about this and then realised that a tree with a great story and one I love is the ‘dawn redwood’ at Birmingham Botanical Gardens. The scientific name for it is Metasequoia glyptostroboides – bit of a mouthful, but a grand name for a grand tree.

This species grew in Europe over 150 million years ago, but was unknown to science except as a fossil until it was discovered growing in a single valley in China in 1941 and introduced to Western cultivation in 1947. It was propagated and distributed around the world and so now it is here in England again growing on the main lawn at Birmingham Botanical Gardens. It is a beautiful deciduous conifer that colours a deep bronze in autumn.

The tree was probably planted in 1948 or 1949, but alas was located where the new Curator’s house was to be built (now the Study Centre) and so in 1960 it had to be moved “to a prominent position on the main lawn”. Showing a significant will to survive, the plant known in China as the ‘water fir’ is thriving on this dry sandy slope!

The seeds of the tree were sent to Britain from the Harvard University Arboretum – the Arnold Arboretum, and here is another connection with Birmingham. The famous plant hunter Ernest ‘Chinese’ Wilson began his career at Birmingham and eventually after many adventures became the Keeper of the Arnold Arboretum. He died tragically in a car crash and when eventually interred in the Mount Royal Cemetery in Canada a tree was chosen to be planted alongside his grave. They could have chosen many of his intorductions including the dove tree, but no, because he collected so many new plants for our gardens from China the latest tree to be discovered was chosen – and it was a dawn redwood.

So when I look at this tree I think about the vagaries of evolution, climate change and how it could so easily have become extinct, but also the way it connects us with the natural world through its beauty and also links plants and people with through its associations.

Ross McGuinness – My family were all born in Scotland (minus me and my older brother); so as a child I had many long car journeys between Bromsgrove and Dundee, passing through the Scottish Highlands. A key memory for me on these journeys is seeing a familiar type of tree once we crossed the Scottish border and got ever closer to Dundee. As a young child, my brother and I used to point out that we could see the ‘Dundee trees’ as we called them. Which is now a sarcastic joke as adults if we ever make the journey. The tree is actually the Douglas Fir.

The majestic Douglas fir is named after Scottish botanist and collector David Douglas who, in 1827, sent the first seed from North America back to Britain. Its botanical name – Pseudotsuga menziesii – commemorates Archibald Menzies, who discovered the tree in 1791.

It has a lifespan of 500-years and can grow up to 60-metres in Britain. It has soft needles with two grey bands underneath. The oval shaped cones hang downwards with a three point bract – a special type of leaf – on every scale. The Douglas fir’s bark is a reddish-brown, fissured and corky and it; native to British Columbia to California.

The Douglas Fir is the major timber species in its native North America, and its imported timber is sold here as ‘Oregon pine’. Originally grown in this country for ornamental purposes, it is now a valuable timber tree used for sawmill timber and paper pulp. Today the timber is used for construction work, high quality plywood and veneers, as well as for furniture and panelling.

Sophia Nasreisfahany, Project Manager BTfL – 

One of my favourite trees as a child was a weeping willow in the school field. The willow dropped all the way down to the ground so you could hide inside like a secret den. We often played running in and out of the leaves but I also loved this tree as it was a great place to find some quiet time. I would often take a book a sit under the tree hidden amongst the drooping vines where I could hide away from the world and get lost in a book. To this day weeping willows are still one of my favorite trees.

I also loved the cherry blossom trees from my junior school which lined the play ground and covered it with beautiful pink and white blossom each spring, I am sure I remember us using it as confetti when role playing on the playground pretending we were getting married and throwing handfuls of blossom in the air as confetti. Its amazing how children use their imagination to combine nature and play.

I can picture the willow tree perfectly in my head! Was a smallish tree and the vines used to droop all the way around to the floor like a curtain it was a great hiding place as a kid.

Tonia Clarke, Chair of Birmingham Tree People – 

My favourite tree is the Grand Fir.   There are two in Sandwell Valley and I always smush the needles as I go passed.   I love that it smells of grapefruit!  The resin smells great as well and after smelling it I feel a bit healthier.  It must be the anti bacterial, anti fungal, anti viral volatile organic compounds getting into my lungs.  Just what I need this winter.

Nancy Nancy Evans, Director of Learning & Participation at BSCM –

It’s so difficult to choose – Sweet Chestnut, Cedar of Lebanon, Oak…, but, I’ve gone with beech because it looks so glorious, with or without leaves, all year round. And because of the beautiful beech wood in Warley Woods near my home which is like a natural cathedral.

 

Fiona Williams, BTfL Committee Member –

This is a cherry tree in our garden.  It was a wedding present given to us when David and I married 29 years and 4 months ago.  It is as strong as our marriage. We usually have a battle with a pair of pigeons on who is going to get the cherries first.  I usually win, to be fair the pigeons get some of the cherries, but I get the most!

 

 

 

Tamara Tempera, Marketing and Communication Manager at BCMG –

I’m fortunate enough to live next to a magnificent park in the North of Italy. Two years ago it was heavily damaged by the storm “Vaia”, which left hundreds of km of forests in the region to be restored. This Cedrus is one of the few who still stands tall in the park and every time I see its scars I cannot but admire its resilience.

After reading these we hope you think about your own tree memories and share them with your nearest and dearest. You could even share them with us at justine.marklew@btfl.org.uk

It’s clear that trees muster a million and one feelings and thoughts and as you travel around take time look and appreciate trees. Birmingham is a green city with 571 parks and public open green spaces and over a million trees. Think about each one of those trees needing a space to place it, planning, planting, maintenance and due care  and respect by every individual that walks or sits under it. brushes past it, stands for a moment to admire it, picks the fruit or leaves off it, brushes against it’s bark or treads on the acorns, pine cones, catkins, conkers and other seeds that fall from it. The shade it provides from heat or the cover it provides from rain.

Trees are a labour of love and love them we must and while we do that enjoy the moment a tree gives you – that moment of joy, relaxation, exhilaration, satisfaction, comfort, amazement and memory!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Gardens – Hoping Our Beautiful Flowering Cherry Trees Bed Down Nicely

 

 

3/12/2020

A message from our Chairman Geoff Cole, here 

Well the team at BTfL all gave a united cheer as we dug our first spade into the ground to plant our first tree of the season in National Tree Week! It had been a long time coming and we had been itching to get out and engage in our normal timetable. Unfortunately, we have been unable to work with schools or volunteers this year so far, but never fear – we eventually got here and will be back to normal as soon as we can be.

At Hope Gardens, a small park in Nechells as part of our HS2 funded programme the BTfL team planted five flowering Cherry Trees. Despite the rain and the cold our spirits weren’t dampened and we were all so happy to be outside on site, doing what we do best – putting trees in the ground.

These five Prunus Royal Burgundy ornamental trees will bring beautiful spring colour, a gentle snow flurry of delicate petals falling all around as Spring turns to Summer. They will bring more biodiversity, improve air quality, flood defences, tree canopy cover and will beautify the park even more for local resident to enjoy all through the year.

While planting the trees two of the local residents were curious as to what we were up to and wanted a friendly chat. There was a big thank you from one local lady as she walked through the park, ‘what a lovely thing to do. I have a cherry tree in my garden.’ As she pointed to the beautiful  trees on the borders of the park, with a smile she told us how she remembered those established trees being planted 25-years ago.

A gentleman passing by shouted a big thank to us for improving the area with more trees! ‘Here here,’ we all cheered back!

It’s good to know that the local-residents of Nechells appreciate their trees and love seeing more planted. In 25-years our Flowering Cherry Trees will look splendid and even more beautiful with each passing year.

And while resident can enjoy the new trees we have planted what many of them may not know is that there is a very special tree in Hope Gardens Park!

With a history going back to the Jurassic period, the Metasequoia glyptostroboides, its common name, (Dawn Redwood) is a tree that dates back to the dinosaurs and had been known formally for years through fossils deposits across the other side of the world. Sadly these trees were deemed extinct until the early 1940’s when it was found growing in a remote part of China. Since then every Metasquoia glyptostroboides in the world has come from that small population of trees from China. How amazing to trace back this beautiful specimen of a tree in Hope Gardens back to the dinosaurs all the way from East Asia!

So who knew such amazing tree history sat quietly nestled on the borders in Hope Gardens.

And who knows what next year might bring – a bit of normality hopefully when we can think about enjoying our tree planting events with schools, volunteers and our wonderful corporate sponsors.

Because believe it or not planting trees is only half the story. Planting trees is about building a bit more of Birmingham’s beautiful green history, adding to the BTfL legacy and feeling the love and ownership of every tree we plant together – and together we will plant these trees!

Please see a link to our photos here

 

 

 

 

 

Talking Trees With The Autistic Gardener!

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

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

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

Alan, just starting his career in horticulture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan with BtfL at Jones Wood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And for that we should feel very lucky!

A Wonderful Tree Themed Camera Obscura Workshop!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volunteering has a great deal of other value too –

 V – Versatility

O – Opens your mind

L – Learn New Skills

U – Understanding

N – New Sense of purpose

T – Team Work

E-  Empowerment

E – Emotional Wellbeing

R – Raising Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    

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

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

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

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

       

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook -The Friends of Queslett Nature Reserve

Twitter – @the_queslett 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Have to Plant Millions More Trees! #TogetherWeWill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Wellbeing Through My Window

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

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

But no one said it was going to be easy.

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

   

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

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

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

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

We really look forward to showcasing your images.

Thank you and keep well

A huge thanks to the Halpin Trust who have funded this social media campaign and project. Without this vital funding this project would not have been possible.