You may already have a site in mind, or you may need to find one. Even for an awareness-raising event, you need to identify where and when you can do it. In urban areas there are a wide range of possible spaces, as detailed below.
For site-based projects, you may need to carry out a survey first to find out what is on the site. This can itself be a project for the group, or you may need to obtain expertise from your local authority ecology officer, local wildlife trust or similar. Depending on how you decide to do the survey, it can provide a good opportunity to get other people interested and involved. Schools and youth groups may find the exercise fits in well with the national Curriculum. Older people often have a fund of knowledge and the time to help. For more details on surveys, see here.
Places open to everyone
Streets are open to everyone, and may not be seen as a space for environmental improvement. However, you only have to see the difference that street trees make to the appearance and feeling of a road to appreciate what can be achieved. One mature broadleaved tree can feed thousands of invertebrates and provide shelter and habitat for birds. See Chapter 6 – Trees and woodlands for more information on trees.
Public open space
This includes parks, cemeteries, commons, sports grounds and other areas with open access. Many such spaces are often maintained by the local authority for general amenity use, which may not be the best approach for biodiversity or aesthetics. While people need space to kick a football about or to lie in the sun, parks often have large areas of mown grass which are expensive to maintain, under used by people, and of little wildlife value. Much can be done to improve habitat, increase biodiversity, involving community groups and individuals in the process, without losing areas for sport, exercise and picnicking. This topic is further discussed in Chapter 3 – People and places.
Places with restricted access
Many places have restricted access, but are important in providing specific groups of people with space to meet, relax, enjoy the fresh air or undertake particular activities. These spaces can support successful projects because ownership of the area is clearly defined. Examples are:
- housing estates
- gardens, both private and communal
- church grounds
- hospital grounds
- school grounds
- commercial open space,
- around factories, warehouses, offices and shops.
Wester Hailes Youth Programme, Edinburgh
Many successful projects in urban areas have shown that practical conservation work can be a useful tool in youth work. Success needs to be measured/by the quality of the involvement during the project, and by the long-term outcomes for the individuals and communities involved. These are often more important than the achievements on the ground.
Scottish Conservation Projects were keen to develop practical projects in the Edinburgh area, and gained support from The Rank Foundation and Edinburgh Green Belt Trust. The initial aim was to identify projects on the ground, and involve young people from local communities in practical conservation work. Experience gained in the first year of the 5 year scheme indicated the following requirements:
- Good contacts with existing youth organisations and youth workers are needed to provide a framework within which projects can run, and to provide support for the field officer.
- A field officer doing this type of work needs to have strong interpersonal abilities, with a high level of self- confidence and independence, and the personality to relate with young people.The evaluation of success needs to be measured in terms of personal and community development, and not only in results on the ground.
A partnership was established with Wester Hailes Youth Programme, enabling the SCP Youth Development Officer to work alongside other youth workers. The Youth Programme provided contact with young people and the support of experienced staff, while SCP were able to provide the new activity of practical conservation linked with informal environmental education.
One of the first achievements was a residential week on the Isle of Arran, carrying out footpath improvements for the National Trust for Scotland. The success of this week attracted other young people to get involved in the project, which steadily developed through meetings, workshops, residential training courses and practical projects.
It was found that many of the young people had a good awareness of environmental issues, and responded to the opportunity to explore these issues in practical and active ways. At an early stage, two key individuals emerged who were later employed for 9 months in the scheme, and made a great contribution to its success.
An important development was the Bothy project. This involved securing a lease on an old estate cottage in Glen Tilt, to provide a residential base for young people from Wester Hailes. The bothy required major renovation, and from the start the young people were directly involved in ideas and decision making about how the project should evolve. The bothy provided a tangible and long-term focus, and a great sense of ownership and responsibility. Monthly residential projects were established.
Another development was the Wester Hailes Environmental Forum, set up to co-ordinate environmental interests in the area. This led to collaborative projects, and the development of community based environmental events.
To quote the SCP officer… ‘The core group of long-term participants demonstrated growing independence and personal development, evident in their desire to do things themselves – which as far as I am concerned is the whole point’.
At the end of the 5 year involvement of SCP, the project has continued through a training initiative called Action 21.
Private space overlooked or seen by the public
Some spaces have no access but are valued by people for many reasons, including blocking of ugly views, absorption of noise and dust, privacy and screening. These include inaccessible and undisturbed areas such as railway embankments, which are particularly valuable for wildlife. On the smaller scale, private gardens, window boxes and hanging baskets give enjoyment to nearby residents and passers-by.
What type of project?
As well as the traditional conservation work of tree and hedge planting, coppicing, pond management and so on, there are a huge range of other projects which can involve the wider community, and bring environmental improvements right into the heart of the city. Some ideas include:
- involving school children in painting an environmental mural on a playground wall
- planting and managing a wildlife garden
- running an event on the annual tree dressing day
- making nesting boxes
- dance and music on an environmental theme
- recycling projects.
Don’t be too ambitious, but start small. Think about your resources in time, funds and skills, and set yourself attainable targets. Many successful schemes have started from very small beginnings, and have grown from a single project into a large-scale and long-term enterprise encompassing a wide range of environmental work.