Green Spaces, Communities and Wellbeing

One of the barriers to getting out into nature is that there are fewer green spaces around, and many are neglected and barren of nature. Perhaps just some short-mown grass and the odd squirrel or pigeon. Whilst my kids still get excited by the few species of wildlife they do see, I can only imagine how fascinated they would be if immersed in local green spaces as rich in biodiversity as a rainforest, where they could  feel life vibrating all around them, the air filled with noises, smells, sights, and textures. Whilst we can’t recreate a rainforest here in south-east England, there are habitats which are just as full of biodiversity, albeit on a smaller scale! Our chalk streams, rivers, wetlands, and ponds can be brimming with life if we let nature in. And wildflower meadows positively vibrate with buzzing pollinators if we can bear the mess of the taller floppy plants in summer, and the stark architectural beauty of the dried stems in winter. Scrub and hedgerows provide secret highways for birds, butterflies, and tiny mice. So, whilst you may need to get down on your hands and knees, or dip into the water, we can still immerse ourselves in these richly intense micro-worlds.

Bee Healthy Border in Summertown

One of the other benefits of our work, is that increased connectedness to nature has been shown in a recent pilot headed by the Cherwell Collective to foster more sustainable shopping choices. Knowing what really helps people get on board with climate action is essential if we are to collectively tackle the climate and nature emergencies and it's great to see that nature has a role for planet health as well as personal health! You can find out more about that pilot work: Waste Innovation Station (WISH) here.

WISH is a community project run by Cherwell Collective. It is designed to engage people in innovative ways to reduce waste through reusing and repurposing. In order to have the biggest impact and to continually improve what WISH does, would you consider giving 10 minutes of your time completing this survey.

Volunteers planting up a living sculpture made from waste materials to honour King Charles' Coronation

Getting connected with Nature

There is increasing awareness of the need to enable people from all sectors of society to be in touch with nature. Wild Oxfordshire works with all types of individuals, groups, and organisations who create more spaces for nature, which everyone can access. Wild Oxfordshire developed the Bee Healthy project as a partnership with the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment and the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare. The project helped GP surgeries to create borders with nectar-rich herbaceous perennials. These are attractive to bumblebees and other pollinators and also benefit patients, staff and visitors. The project was also supported by Smiths of Bletchington and Postcode Local Trust, a grant giving charity funded entirely by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. In autumn 2019, Bee Healthy successfully created bee-friendly green spaces at Summertown Health Centre and St. Bartholomew’s Medical Centre in Oxford and Windrush Medical Practice in Witney, Oxfordshire. Each green space was created with around 15 different plant species. Early analysis of these green spaces has shown positive results in terms of attracting pollinators. Observations detected the presence of the seven most common species of bumblebees at these sites as well as other pollinators such as honeybees, butterflies, moths, solitary bees, and beetles. The Bee Healthy gardens are an inspiring example of how small urban green spaces can contribute to expanding the availability of food for pollinators.

The Bee Healthy gardens have also been important for the wellbeing of humans. Specifically, these spaces were very popular among NHS staff working during the covid pandemic:

“The bee garden is a source of great enjoyment every morning when we come into the surgery. Lots of people have commented on the flowers appearing. Especially in these strange times, it provides a nice distraction and a reminder of the natural world, oblivious to it all.”  – GP, Summertown Health Centre
Bee Healthy borders in Windrush

We’ve also created the Bee Healthy Project Guide to share our experiences. It outlines our experiences with establishing Bee Healthy at these three locations and provides practical information for community organisations such as NHS health centres, community centres, schools, places of worship, and others that wish to create their own Bee Healthy plant borders.

Wild Oxfordshire also worked with the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare to create a Green Health Walk in Marston, near Oxford. The Green Health Routes programme creates walking routes between health centres and areas of publicly accessible green space to encourage people to get outside and enjoy nature on their doorstep. The programme develops route maps and encourages GPs to prescribe the walks to their patients via ‘green prescriptions’ and we have a new section on our website aimed at helping health care practitioners guide their clients towards greenspaces and community groups near them.

An example of how biodiverse greenspaces can become community hubs, is the project created by NaturEscape in Florence Park, East Oxford. NaturEscape was conceived in the 2020 lockdown and birthed in 2021 and they work with communities, organisations, and business to create places where people connect with the natural world in places that are designed for many species, not just humans. Their first project was to re-imagine the old mini-golf course in Florence Park, as a nature-led space where local park users, families, and children relax and play with the objects, sights, and sounds that nature provides, whilst respecting habitats provided for birds and bugs, frogs, and worms. It was built with funds from Oxford City Council, Flo’s The Place in the Park, The Trust for the Oxford Environment, and some private donors. But above all it was built by volunteers from the local community who engaged with project over 15 months to plant trees, hedges, lay species-rich turf, dig a pond, and create a pathway through the area. Now, as well as being an amenity for all to enjoy when the park is open, it is regularly booked by community groups and Flo’s nursery as an outdoor classroom and forest school area. Other projects to connect people with nature are now in the pipeline, follow our blog for news on new NaturEscape areas with museums, sport, and communities.

Creating 'welcome hedgehog' signs for pledged hedgehog highway gaps - a connecting to nature activity (Wild Kidlington project)

So how can you help?


[1]A literature review for The Wildlife Trusts: By the University of Essex Wellbeing benefits from natural environments rich in wildlife chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/