Supporting community-led action through urban education

Milton Avenue, Podsmead (c) GWT

Nicola Simpson, Urban Wildlife Manager for GWT, talks about how her team's urban education work helped an area blighted by anti-social behaviour and fly tipping transform into a haven for the local community, with thanks to the brilliant work and support of the Podsmead Clearance Team and Podsmead Big Local.

Gloucestershire's Urban Areas

Gloucestershire is often considered to be a rural county, full of countryside and nature, so many people might be surprised to hear that Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust (GWT) has an urban programme of work. The county has two major settlements and only one city, Gloucester, which is ranked the 53rd most populated in the country.

There are pockets of extreme deprivation in the city of Gloucester, with some areas being ranked in the 10% most deprived in the country (according to the Indices of Multiple Deprivation). In some areas of Gloucester 40% of households don’t have access to a car, compared with 26% across England. These factors often result in lack of access to the countryside and less engagement with nature.

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust's Urban Work

GWT’s urban programme of work helps bring nature into the towns and the city of the county, not only providing opportunities for residents to experience the benefits of a more nature-rich environment, but also improving biodiversity in our ever-growing urban environments. GWT works on a variety of projects which aim to touch the hearts and minds of all residents, from the young and old to the ethnically diverse.

One particular advantage of Gloucester is that many areas of the city have large amounts of green space, although much of it poor quality and not biodiverse. But these areas provide opportunities, along with gardens, schools playing fields and roadside verges, to work with the local community to create corridors for wildlife and make more nature-rich spaces for people to enjoy. Many of these spaces are owned and managed by Gloucester City Council, and working in partnership with the council, GWT has undertaken projects in several of the most deprived areas in Gloucester to enhance local green spaces, with the help of the surrounding communities.

Robinswood Hill (c) Nick Turner

Robinswood Hill (c) Nick Turner

Robinswood Hill - one of Gloucester's green spaces.

Milton Avenue Green Space Project

One such project in the Podsmead area of Gloucester started in 2016 and focused on an underused, but wild green space in the heart of this community. This area was regularly used for antisocial behaviour, including large amounts of fly tipping, and as a result was seen as an unsafe place to go and local children did not play there. With the help of the local community, and support from Gloucester City Council, GWT ran practical volunteer days to litter pick, improve habitats, reduce areas for fly tipping, create new steps and footpaths, install benches and bird boxes. Local schools were involved and created an insect hotel, and events and education sessions saw residents learn about some of the wildlife that uses the site.

Milton Avenue, Podsmead

A volunteering day at Milton Avenue, Podsmead, led by GWT's Nicola Simpson

On a summer's day the Podsmead green space is now full of wildflowers, butterflies and day-flying moths, along with slowworms and a variety of birds. Local families now use the site to play, sit and enjoy a quiet moment, to connect with nature.

The difficulty is ensuring the site is maintained and this enthusiasm from the local community isn’t lost. As all councils have limited resources it is becoming increasingly necessary for residents to support maintaining their local green spaces in a way they would like them to be managed. Involvement of local residents in this work often results in them being more invested in their local community, better quality of management and a reduction in antisocial behaviour.

Introducing the Podsmead Clearance Team

However, with our increasingly busy lifestyles people have less time to volunteer and this can be even more evident in deprived communities. So how can urban green spaces be maintained to a high standard by the community? In Podsmead this is being done by an enthusiastic group of young people who have set up their own social enterprise, the Podsmead Clearance Team (PCT) and Podsmead Big Local. PCT have been awarded the maintenance contract from Gloucester City Council to maintain green spaces in Podsmead. This mainly involves grass cutting, but involvement with GWT has meant this can be done in a more wildlife friendly way, along with maintenance of more wild areas.

The Podsmead Clearance Team in action (c) Suzannah Bird

The Podsmead Clearance Team in action (c) Suzannah Bird

Some of the Podsmead Clearance Team in action

As local residents PCT have more input into how their green spaces are managed and how they can use them, as well as creating an income and opportunities to build skills for young people in one of the top 10% most income deprived areas of the country; not to mention better quality habitats for our urban wildlife.

The future of GWT's urban work 

GWT’s urban programme has been working with other communities in Gloucester that are looking to adopt a similar model so they can have more control over the management of green spaces in their local area. Urban green spaces can be extremely valuable opportunities for connecting people with nature and for wildlife, if they are managed well. As our towns and cities grow and connect to create super cities, we need to protect and treasure these wild spaces more than ever so that wildlife can continue to thrive.