Tag Archives: urban nature

Going wild on your way to work

If you travel by train or bus to work its a great time to check out the nature on your journey.

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Bus stops can be surprisingly good places for nature

My commute from Bath to Swindon by train transports me through glorious countryside. Just staring out of the window is a nice way to get to know the green places around where you live or work. I’m lucky that its field after field and I might be able to spot a roaming deer or flock of rooks in the trees. Its a view that I never really tire of.

Even the most urban commute by train will throw up all kinds of wild treats. Its a question of looking. Railways can create great corridors for wildlife and the embankments can be full of life with butterflies settling on buddleia and songbirds perching in the trees. Wildflowers also spring up adding a splash of colour and the brambles and nettles are great as a wonderful food source for all sorts of creatures.

Waiting at a bus stop as you’re just waking up might not seem the best place to do some wildlife watching. You’d be surprised if you did some detective work while you wait as plants and birds particularly can spring up where you least expect them. Insects can also be found making their way from A to B, whether spiders of beetles.

So, 30 Days Wild is a great time to think about using your journey to work as a new found window on the world of wildlife.

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.

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.

Getting into nature every day…

30 day’s wild is such a simple yet powerful concept courtesy of the Wildlife Trust. They’re challenging people to do something wild every day throughout June.

On one level it’s a sad reflection that we need these sort of campaigns to remind people about the joys and simple pleasures of nature. But the hard reality is that people have become increasingly disconnected from the natural world.

Most of us live in towns and cities, spend our working week commuting and then our weekends not wanting to travel (yes this is bit of a generalisation but will ring true for a lot of people). Plus we’re increasingly plugged in pretty much 24/7, almost oblivious to the world around us.

The power of a campaign such as this one is that its all about making nature part of your every day life, from the moment you open your front door.

Yes there are lots of amazing places for nature but we need to make it easy for people to connect with wildlife. If anything involves a lot of effort its likely to be less effective. Basically you’re in the world of nudge theory: gentle reminders to change your behaviour. Taking small steps which will lead to bigger changes.

Nature has a real habit of turning up everywhere. Given half a chance it will move into urban areas – parks, verges, green spaces, back lanes – and the edgelands that can be found on the fringes of towns and cities, where grey spaces meet the greenery of countryside.

My hope for this campaign is that people get a real sense of how easy it is to connect with nature. And that its about the common nature as much as the rarer stuff. There is something real soporific about watching the clouds, staring at leaves or tuning into birdsong. You don’t need to be able to identify what something is to really appreciate it; it’s a question of watching or listening.

So why not use June as the month that you finally get into or back into nature. Then it will become an essential part of your life day in day out.

Less mowing, more meadows

There is a bank of grass behind where I live. It’s a place that I pass regularly, coming home from work or taking the kids up to a local park. In the spring daffodils light up the grassy hill and then we have the perfect almost feathery orb-shaped dandelions. It’s a place that the kids like to run free.

A grassy bank which has been left to grow that little bit wilder; creating a great home for nature

A grassy bank which has been left to grow that little bit wilder; creating a great home for nature

Normally this area of green is mowed once the daffodils have finished. But now there is a move to keep some of these sorts of spaces – every day but vitally important spaces – a little bit wilder and less manicured. Leaving patches of green where the grasses can grow longer. It means that nature can live a little bit more, less bothered by the arrival of lawn mowers and it helps to create a sense of wildness in our towns and cities.

It’s been really encouraging to see my local council – Bath and North East Somerset – with its ‘wild meadows’ project take an enlightened approach to managing these important green spaces. And credit also to Plantlife for all of there hard work to get meadows and wild plants on the agenda in such a positive way.

Yes there is a need to think about the ascetics of our green spaces but the well documented decline in species and loss of habitats means that urban areas are becoming increasingly important in efforts to stem this loss.

Roundabouts full of wild flowers adding a splash of colour to the daily commute or allowing grasses and plants to grow a little bit wilder is good news in my book. Life would be that much more boring if everything and every-where looked the same.

And as our towns and cities have expanded over the centuries they have gobbled up the countryside. So it feels right and refreshing for local authorities to re-create a sense of the naturalness of the countryside and creating homes for bumblebees, crickets, daisies and grasses and meadow brown butterflies among other species. I’ll often see bats in the autumn at dusk grazing on the bounty of insects on the wing.

Walking home after a hard day staring at my screen at work seeing the slightly chaotic and almost carefree areas on this grassy bank lifts the spirits.

When the sun streams through the leaf-laden trees it shows how we can through simple and important cost-effective solutions create a network of mini nature reserves that come alive on warm spring or summer days.

These places can become little oases in the landscape of housing and roads, helping our well-being and connecting us to nature.

A garden sized wildlife oasis

Outside my back door I have my very own nature reserve. It’s about 20 metres by 5 metres and it’s not particularly even. It is lightly managed (I’m not green fingered) and has a mixture of habitats. There are great links to other nature spaces of a similar size and there is a neat wildlife corridor linking a range of mini nature reserves in my neighbourhood.

Forget-me-nots next to the footpath

Forget-me-nots next to the footpath

Yes I’m talking about my back garden. I admit that I’m lucky enough to have one. But it shows me every day that nature literally does start when I open my back door. The kids spend many a happy hour looking for ladybirds, raising tadpoles in a bucket or watching butterflies zig zag across the garden in summer; its our very own little oasis of wildlife.

Our very own bucket tadpoles

Our very own bucket tadpoles

Gardens are really important places for wildlife, whatever size (think how big an area would be filled if you added all of the gardens in the UK together). You can cram a lot in to quite a small space and you can experiment with different management regimes.

I’d say that our garden is a few levels below re-wilding. There is some structure to it, honest; however I’ve become more inclined to let it finds it way.

A spread of primroses that found their own way into our garden

A spread of primroses that found their own way into our garden

At the moment the lawn has a lovely sprinkling of primroses. We didn’t plant any of them, they just found their way by force of nature. The two mini fruit trees are great nectar sources for bees and butterflies as they pass on through and we have lavender and buddleia playing an important supporting role.

The grass is mowed but is far from being a green and pleasant lawn with lovely stripes. It has quite a bit of moss lurking.

Lichens of all shapes and sizes cling to walls and the footpath

Lichens of all shapes and sizes cling to walls and the footpath

Lichens cling to the walls and footpath coming in all shapes and sizes and the shed is a great place for spiders to spin webs and snails to keep out of reach of hungry predators. We get a pretty good number of birds in the garden from jays to goldfinches and the crowd pleasing blackbirds.

Much maligned weeds add a bit of space to the garden, creating a slightly wild feeling.

I like the idea of having an informal and slightly unstructured garden, which is loved but lacks detailed planning. With nature in retreat in many places and the vast majority of us living in towns and cities we all have a responsibility to carefully think about how our gardens, back and front, large or window boxes, can help nature find a home.