Recognising the unique qualities of cities and towns is an important first step in understanding how best to contribute to environmental improvements. Diversity is what makes cities special. The very diversity of the human population in cities, its multi-cultural nature, has led to lateral thinking by conservationists. While the need and desire to green the city and provide wildlife habitats is a major force behind urban conservation work, bringing relevance to your activities to involve a wide range of people in environmental action means taking an imaginative approach. In many city projects, consciousness-raising is just as important as practical conservation. Helping school children create a nature mural or design a cultural flower bed of plants from the West Indies may be just as valuable as tree planting with a residents’ group or creating a nature area with a group of conservation volunteers.
The breadth of work and the range of communities with which TCV is now involved has expanded greatly in the past few years. They range from people on a housing estate trying to brighten the place up; a community group growing its own food; the patients and staff of a doctor ’s surgery creating a physic garden; the local community group encouraging their old folk to take up gardening; the church congregation turning their churchyard into a wildlife haven; or a ‘Friends of…..’ group taking on the practical management of a remnant ancient woodland. From window boxes to woodlands, via nature murals and tree dressing, the activities of the urban conservationist are as diverse as the population itself. Recycling, composting and community art have joined the long list of activities of the urban conservationist.
Conserving and enhancing biodiversity is still high on the agenda. Cities, towns and suburbs are incredibly rich in wildlife, with a greater range of habitats than intensively farmed ‘countryside’. You’re more likely to see a fox in the town than in the country, and kestrels are common hovering above roadside verges. A pair of sparrowhawks has nested in the plane trees of a South London street, and hundreds of newts were discovered in a city school pond. On a hedge in a city school nature area five different wasp galls were found on just one plant, proving that biodiversity is alive and well and living in the city. Where the urban conservationist has been at work, you could visit a rich summer meadow, an ancient coppice woodland, a newly-laid hedge or a wetland teeming with life – all in just one afternoon.
School nature areas, community wildlife gardens and other similar areas are often small. Maintaining many different habitats in such small spaces, often under great human pressure, creates a need for particularly intensive management. While such a level of management is usually seen in negative terms, in cities this is a positive asset, providing lots of opportunities for active participation, training, practical conservation, education and community involvement.
The key to successful city greening is community action. Urban conservation is all about local people doing something in their own locality with their neighbours, friends, work mates or club members, often with a knock- on benefit to the rest of the community. The taking part can be as important as the end product. The creation of a community garden for a block of single person flats can lead to communication and exchange among the residents who might seldom have made contact in the past.
This handbook is aimed at anyone who is interested in urban environmental action, from the concerned individual, through to project officers with responsibility for encouraging community action. The handbook begins by looking at how communities function, and gives lots of ideas for getting started with days of action and other short term projects. Chapter 3 looks in detail at how people interact with green spaces in urban areas, how they perceive them, use them, and at the effect management has on them. It also discusses the issues of local ownership and vandalism. Chapter 4 describes the range of habitats found in towns and cities, many of which are special to urban areas, and how they are affected by soils, climate and other factors. Chapters 5-10 give advice on a wide range of practical environmental work, from rubbish clearance, to fencing, tree planting, pond creation, nestbox construction and many others. Information on health, safety and tools is given in an appendix.
Examples of projects by TCV and other groups are included throughout the book. References to other publications in the text are given by author and date, or title, publisher and date, according to their listing in the bibliography.