Category Archives: green space

Bluebell heaven

I’m stood in the middle of a bluebell wood.  All around me is a carpet of blue. This is the most astonishing display of these much loved spring-time plants that I have ever seen. I feel like I need to rub my eyes to make sure that this is real and not some daydream. The only word that comes into my head is ‘wow’.

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I look around and as far as the eye can see is bluebells. The overcast nature of the day and the lush green of the emerging leaves amplifies the colour. I’ve seen countless images of bluebell woods: it’s a staple of photo stories in the nationals and social media channels such as Instagram  in late April and early May. But I have never seen anything to compare with this. The stresses of the day begin to ebb away the longer I stand in the woods, showing the power of nature to add a real calmness to our daily lives. We all need our patch of natural heaven to refresh us.

This magical Bluebell wood is called Hagbourne Copse. It’s carefully managed by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. For years I have passed this place on the way to and from work in Swindon. Finally after years of anticipation I made it into the woods. But this first visit exceeded any expectations that I had and I hadn’t fully anticipated the natural treat that was in store for me.

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The most remarkable thing about this Bluebell wood is its location. This woodland, roughly the size of a few football pitches, is surrounded by roads and an industrial estate. Its minutes away from Junction 16 on the M4 and is next to the main route, used by tens of thousands of people every day, on their way to and from work in Swindon.

It seems remarkable to think that so many people will pass this special place every day totally oblivious to its beauty.  Many people have written about the so-called edgelands: marginal and often non-descript places on the edge of our towns and cities. These are places where nature moves in when people move out; or places where nature gradually takes over the forgotten strips of land or abandoned brownfield sites.

Hagbourne Copse is a classic example of the need for us all to look closer to home for nature. It can be found in the most surprising places. Near to where I work in Swindon is a footpath that negotiates it’s way between the railway and a car-park: and yet this short green corridor is awash with natural treats.

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Little did I think that my favourite ever Bluebell wood would be in a place like this. For me it shows the ability of nature to thrive where-ever it’s found. This copse will have been here long before the warehouses, car showrooms and hotels. It’s a place that transports us deep into the heart of nature and connects us to why wildlife has the ability to provide a sense of awe that few other things can compete with.

Keeping it wild in winter

Millions of us will be tuning into Winterwatch this week as our TV screens are filled with natural winter treats. There is always a slight misconception that nature shuts down during the shorter days and as the temperature hovers around freezing. Yet there is still plenty to see and do; and its a great time to get planning as we move towards Spring. So in true list style here are five things to keep you occupied on the nature front.

  1. Visit a local nature reserve. You’re never that far from a natural wonder, where-ever you live. Organisations such as the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and National Trust have some great places to explore and the winter time is no exception. You’ll see them in a raw state as they start to come alive with the turning of the wild clocks to warmer days. Repeat the visit during the different season and you will develop a special connection.
  2. Read a nature book. In the last decade writing about nature has boomed. And there is a treasure chest of classics that have been re-issued by publishers such as Little Toller. So pop to a local bookshop, library or browse online and pick a book or some poetry to transport you into the magic of nature.
  3. Get volunteering. Green places, such as City Farms, need people to help out. Spending some time helping to make these wonderful places beacons for wildlife is really rewarding and you can get to know some great local charities. There is always plenty to do what-ever the time of year. Or you can taker part in survey’s such as the RSPB Big Garden Watch at the end of January. Many conservation organisations run similar citizen science projects throughout the year.
  4. Watch the birdies. We all know about the wonder that is the Dawn Chorus; a sound that captures the heart and lifts the soul. But the winter can be a fab time to tune into local songbirds, whether the Dawn or Dusk Chorus. And with few leaves on the trees you can actually see them too.
  5. Go for a wander. If you take the time to look you can find nature in many surprising places. Take the time to go for a wander, either from where you live or in to the local countryside. There are plenty of great walking books or plot a route on an OS Map or online. As you walk look, listen and absorb. You’ll spot things that you would have never thought would be there and you’ll get so much out of it.

So if you love Winterwatch (and the BBC Watches more generally) use it as a way to get up off of the sofa and out into the outdoors. You won’t regret it.

Park life

I’m sat in a park, well more of a square, in central Leeds, on the hottest day of the year. Its full of life…people chatting, reading books or just chilling, kids play with the sent of roses filling the air. This small green space in the centre of one of the great northern cities shows why parks matter: it’s a place where you get a real sense of community.
It might be a well worn phrase but parks are our green lungs. We have the Victorians to thanks for the rise of public parks. They quickly became hugely popular as places to promenade and get away, on high days and holidays, from the intensity of a six day week.
Personally I can’t imagine a world with out parks. For me they are great democratic spaces where the full spectrum of life gathers regardless of income or status. In urban Britain with its squished in houses they matter for countless millions. People spill out into parks during the working week to get some green space time.
A weekend in our family rarely goes by without a trip to our local park. Children really value them as places to roam free and meet new friends. The concept of the park is so simple and yet is under threat.
Cuts to Local Authority budgets means that in the cold light of squeezed finances it is becoming a case of park life vs social services. As park budgets shrink we are in danger of being the generation that oversaw the end of parks as we know them.
Parks are so much more than a green space and we need to defend the important role that they play as glue bringing communities together. They are places to meet, places to dream, places to switch off and places to play. We need to stand up for parks before its too late and look at ways of keeping them open for everyone.

Corridors of wild power

When we think of places where we connect with nature our minds often turn to open fields, deep forests, mountain ranges or the rugged coastline.  Its a natural instinct in-built through thousands of years of tending the land that we associate nature with rural places. After all our diet of wildlife telly beamed into our living rooms or devoured on smartphones has a particular countryside bias.

And yet for most of us its the everyday experience of urban living where we can potentially connect with the natural world. However, in our busy, fast-paced and hard-pressed lives, we often miss the obvious signs of wildlife right in front of our eyes or beneath our feet.

The nature of our towns and cities means that wild oases can be found in the most unusual places. You just need the time and patience to look in the right places.

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Not far from where I work in Swindon there is a lane sandwiched between the mainline railway and an office car park. Its no more than a few hundred metres long and about 5-10 metres wide; and connects one of the station car parks and path into the centre of town. In reality its one of those non-descript places that people pass through in a hurry, either on their way to work or heading home.

This slightly unloved grey/green corridor, however, is full of wild life. Stroll along the footpath on a sunny day and the noise of the trains and hum of urban life drains away as the birds sing in full throttle, the bees buzz past in a real hurry and butterflies rest on nettles to soak up the sun.

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Over the last few weeks the foilage of the trees and hedgerows has come alive with hawthorn bursting into brilliant white and the mini meadows filling up with buttercups, dandelions and forget-me-nots. Blackbirds and robins have been getting busy building nests for the breeding season and the lane has come alive with cabbage white and orange tip butterflies.

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Throughout the rest of Spring and into Summer this will become a place where I go to get my fix of nature, to daydream and let the troubles of the world disappear.

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For me its these edgelands, these arteries of urban life, that can re-awaken people’s interest in nature. We can all find them near to where we work or live. Just take the time in a lunch break or on the way to home to linger and tune into the intensity of nature or just watch as insects fly this way and that.  It doesn’t matter whether you can identify the species you see; the act of just connecting with the wild place where you live will enrich your life.

Two feet good…the joy of wandering

Every month has its designation and now that we’re in the month of May its National Walking Month. Any initiative or campaign to encourage more people to walk is a good thing in my book.

For some people walking has an image problem. Think walking, think hikers, with all the latest kit, striding off into the countryside. We shouldn’t forget that its the people that have rambled the land for generations that helped open up our green and pleasant land for everyone and the mass trespass to Kinder Scout in the Peak District ultimately led to our network of wonderful National Parks.

I like to think of walking as the stuff of life. If I don’t have a daily wander it doesn’t feel like I’ve connected with the world around me. Yes you can see it in the narrow confine of how many steps that you’ve walked today but there is something plain nice about walking the streets of the place that you work or live.

Back at the start of April I began a new job. One of the first things that I did was to work out a few walking routes of different lengths. And as part of this detective work there was the real bonus of a footpath neighbouring the railway, nearby the office, which is a nature rich urban corridor – full of wildlife. As spring arrived so did the birdsong, trees bursting into leaf and the sight of butterflies on the wing.

We should all try and get walking more. Just set off from where you live and walk. See where it takes you. I can bet that you’ll find out so much more about the place where you call home. The pace is just right too, to take things in and to notice the buildings, the green spaces and the sounds that just flash by or you miss when driving past.

Walking is also a great time to think. Try to resist the urge to plug those headphones in and just let the soundscape inspire you. You can use a walk in the morning to plan your day or in the evening to download your day.

I still love a long distance walk (I’m in the midst of trying to complete the classic Cotswold Way with friends) but a ramble through some woods with my family or the walk to the station in the morning is just as rewarding. We’re made to walk and hopefully May will tempt a few more people to see that walking in good your body, soul and mind.

Celebrating everyday green spaces…

You can hardly call it a wood really, more of a patch of woodland at the top of a sloping green space. And yet in this area, sheltered by trees and thick with ivy and saplings, is a magical world, which could be miles from anywhere and yet is surrounded by housing.

Summerfield wood, as I’ve grandly called it, is at the end of a terrace of Victorian houses; and you’ve guessed it, it’s called Summerfield Terrace in east Bath.

Its a place that is passed by countless people everyday and yet it remains and feels like a hidden gem. Visible to the passer by as they wander past oblivious to its natural wonder. I probably walk past it a handful of times a week and I always think of the importance of this placed to nature and for the people that do use it whether to walk a dog, try to climb a tree or run down its gently slope.

During the winter months this small everyday green space is defined by the architectural brilliance of the naked branches of trees. The scrubby cover that mammals and birds love doesn’t exist and with a little rain it becomes wet under foot. It’s packed full of character, which is easily missed.

But when you get to autumn a lone mature apple tree, weighed down by the fruits of the harvest, hints at a possible agriculture past or perhaps a garden long gone, the only visible footprint of its existence this quintessential of English trees. 2014 was a good summer for this fine tree thick with a bounty of apple richness waiting to be harvested and covered in lichens and mosses in fifty shades of green.

On a visit to this woodland last summer, barely half an acre in size, I observed the comings and goings of a speckled wood butterfly seeking out its patch of warm sunshine to bathe its weary wings. Something that will live long in the memory, feeling as though it was exclusively for me.

So many places like this exist in Bath, in England, in the UK. They remain un-noticed by the many but hopefully loved by the few. And that is why we need to open our eyes to see places and make sure that we protect and care for them; otherwise that could be gone in the blink of an eye.

For me its these green spaces littered with trees, teaming with insects and home to the high pitched squawks of magpies that are the really special places. An oasis of calm and a place to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life in the city; a kind of paradise potentially lost here in Fairfield Park in Bath. And with views across towards the world famous Solsbury Hill and a steep tree covered hillside which come alive when drenched in beautiful morning sunlight.

You can create your own footpath through the dense undergrowth the cracking of the sticks as you make your way through, the laughter of my children as they hunt for ladybirds or snails to add to their collection. This very urban wild time as rich in sensory experience as any trip to a nature reserve. A place to discover the richness and intensity of nature on your doorstep; a place to return time and time again. Each passing season brings a new discovery and a reason for returning – making its a destination or place to call in on a journey.