This is good not just for the natural world but for so much more. The theory of Biophilia suggests that we have an innate tendency to seek connection with nature and that looking at greenery is good for our mental health. Having a green view from a window even speeds up our recovery in hospital. Vegetation also helps improve air quality, provides shading and cooling and can reduce noise pollution.
There may be local people willing to take on a patch of green space as a community garden or allotments; even growing food on public land inspired by Incredible Edible in Todmorden. Initiatives can include community orchards and food growing areas, where residents can come together to plant, harvest, share and maintain food production. There may be scope to create planters on the high street and in school grounds, place hanging baskets on lamp posts and window boxes for residents to personalise.
Public parks, gardens and play spaces also provide great opportunities for supporting positive mental health and wellbeing by connecting with nature, engaging the senses, meeting with others and engaging in physical exercise.
All of these spaces should be designed to support wildlife; using indigenous species and those that provide food for pollinating insects and habitats for native wildlife such as nesting sites for birds and ponds for aquatic animals. These can be integrated into Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems using features such as rain gardens and swales to combine practical drainage with habitat creation.
Communities have also stopped councils spraying herbicides and brought
about change to management regimes to leave some grassed areas uncut to plant wildflower meadows. Even in the most urban areas, there are many opportunities for planting and greening, and the community can be a catalyst for making this happen.
What You Can Do
When auditing local green space, count the species of plants and trees as well as birds, insects and mammals. Maybe you could do a moth night to survey the local population. Identify spaces where the community could do planting and seek agreement to take on the land for a temporary period if possible. Work with councils and other landowners to change maintenance regimes, leave grass uncut and plant wild flower meadows.
Developers and Designers
Consider the design and management of all new open spaces to maximise their amenity impact and habitat value. Consider including bird and bat boxes in new buildings, as well as opportunities for green roofs and walls and plant trees on all new streets.
Develop a Local Nature Recovery Strategy as set out in the forthcoming Environment Bill to map and plan for the enhancement of habitats and wildlife. Consider Council Adoption Policy for streets and open spaces to ensure that it does not deter the planting of street trees and the creation of naturalised habitats.
3B) Barton Park, Oxford
A large suburban neighbourhood is being built to the north-east of Oxford. The 36-hectare site will accommodate 885 new homes, of which 354 will be socially rented. The development will include facilities to serve the new and existing communities, such as a primary school, community facilities and a food store.
Barton Park is conceived as a garden suburb – a community set within parkland, to form a distinctive urban edge to Oxford. A semi-natural landscaping strategy comprises allotments, sustainable travel greenways, retention and expansion of existing hedgerows and trees, linear parks, a scattering of small neighbourhood pocket parks and a communal nature garden. The development opens up routes into the surrounding countryside and strengthens pedestrian, public transport and cycle routes into Oxford, crossing the A40 bypass.
A healthy lifestyle is facilitated through the creation of improved sports facilities, including football pitches, an all-weather pitch and a pavilion, plus opportunity to enjoy walking, cycling and wildlife watching.
A planting strategy of native species will benefit local birdS, insects and mammals. Linear parks cut easy cycle and walking routes through the site, accommodating native, naturalistic planting such as grassland and meadow flowers. The public realm is inspired by the local landscape and includes the use of edible fruits and herbs.
Ponds and swales line the boundary of the site, accommodating wildlife and storing rainwater to tackle flooding. Timber bridges, boardwalks, seating and play facilities are dotted along the length of the water feature and throughout the site.
The high-quality natural play equipment, grassed mounds and range of environments create stimulating and safe places for children to explore and enjoy.
Photography: ©Grosvenor, ©The Environment Partnership