Nature is fundamental to the quality of the places we live, work and visit, and provides the landscapes and wildlife that help make these areas special. In the same way that communities can help reinvigorate and restore natural environments, natural environment projects can promote greater community cohesion and wellbeing for local residents.
Get Better with Nature partners are seeking to reconnect people with the natural world and promote the benefits it provides. Wildlife Trusts around the country are working alongside local communities to protect and foster the wildlife on their own doorsteps. Here are just a few examples of what big thinking on nature, people and the economy has managed to achieve.
Launched in 2009 by Peabody Housing Associates in partnership with London Wildlife Trusts and funded by the Big Lottery Fund, the Cockney Sparrow Project aimed to put the sparrow and other birds back into the heart of London by connecting local residents of an estate to the nature in their neighbourhood. The project sought to improve housing estate landscapes, benefit sparrow populations and other wildlife, and in doing so, has helped break down barriers between different cultures and generations.
The project was designed to capture local people’s interest in sparrows and other common bird species by helping to restore bird levels by getting people out of their living rooms and engaging with wildlife themed activities. This method has allowed locals to learn about their natural environment and their shared natural heritage. The residents were able to make a positive contribution to maintaining their estate’s green spaces and improving wildlife habitats. Families as well have started to lead more active lifestyles, and to explore and benefit from London’s green spaces. Participants as young as two and as old as 96 have learned new skills and made new friendships and encouragingly, those involved have invested more in their outdoor environments and report feeling much more connected to their community.
See the Cockney Sparrow Project in action here
Wild at Heart is an exciting community nature project, funded by the Big Lottery, and managed by the Sheffield Wildlife Trust which is working alongside local GP and health groups. The scheme is designed for vulnerable or isolated older people aged 50 upwards to help build on their knowledge of the natural world. Activities revolve around wildlife and natural history and hobby groups for instance photography, botanical drawing and bird watching. There are also family activities intended for those who play a significant role caring for grandchildren or other younger family members. Having adopted research by Natural England, Wild at Heart engages individuals in community-based learning, exposing older generations to the widely held benefits of outdoor walks and interaction with the natural environment.
The Avon Wildlife Trust oversees the Communities and Nature (CAN) project – a programme that targets areas of natural deprivation identified by local communities with a view to also improving participants’ wellbeing, self-confidence and social skills. The project has proved hugely successful with vulnerable participating groups, for instance refugees or those with learning difficulties saying they felt less isolated and less socially marginalised. Lower income families and the elderly through CAN have also been offered the opportunity to access higher quality natural environments. Altogether, CAN has strengthened community cohesion and serves as a fantastic model to support deprived communities through natural conservation in other parts of the country.
Earlier this year, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and health charity MIND launched the Idle Valley Ecominds Project to promote mental health though conservation, horticulture and gardening. At its Idle Valley Nature Reserve, Ecominds has been working alongside people who have experienced mental distress over the past 18 months to offer outdoor activities in green spaces that encourage social interaction and confidence-building. A former gravel extraction site, Idle Valley is now in the process of being restored to a wildlife friendly wetland habitat with mixed grassland and woodland. The nature reserve provides a beautiful and inspirational setting for community members to learn new skills and develop an understanding of wildlife conservation. A horticultural project is also underway, producing vegetables and fruit which can be used by volunteers and the wider community.