Sunday, 22 January 2017

A visiting student from Virginia asks -


Q1 What do you think are the biggest benefits of teaching and using traditional woodland management techniques in city parks?

A1. The essence of a Ranger’s role is to engage the community at large with the aim of encouraging more people to use parks and green spaces. Therefore a range of themes, topics and activities are employed to meet the broad interests and diverse nature of the public, involving people of all ages, abilities, ethnicities etc. 

The ‘woodland’ theme seems to have universal appeal and is steeped in history, ecology, science, spirituality, mythology and culturally, much more.

So generally we can assume people want to learn something new, make something using natural resources and have an involvement in their local green space, so that a few basic skills, some knowledge and a morsel of understanding related to ecological principles allows people to feel good about themselves and enables them to share these good feelings, acquired skills and gained knowledge with family and friends.

Q2.  Why do you think it is important to offer volunteer/educational events in city parks?

A2. Healthy outdoor activity is key to a balanced healthy life, especially in a modern city in which ‘green’ opportunities are few and the stresses many. So by providing outdoor activities in pleasant green space we provide an opportunity for people to escape the pressures of city living. Try Richard Louve, ‘Last Child in the Woods’ for a fully persuasive account of the consequences of inadequate exposure to nature and green space. Here he coins the term ‘nature deficit disorder’, awaiting those in later life who fail to satisfy their primeval needs early on.

Q3.  What's been one of your most rewarding projects in Highbury Park (or another park if something stands out)?

A3. The concept of ‘Woodland Wednesdays’ was born out of the persistent demands from the Highbury Park Friends and other park users, who came with a series of never ending and insatiable enquiries, so that we were meeting weekly to discuss the latest ‘new track’ or unauthorised activity’ or bit of unexplained flattened vegetation. Relatively minor issues in themselves but the sum of which required attention - so began regular site meetings entitled the Highbury ‘Working Party’, and included the Friends, the Orchard (HOCCIC), bee keepers, allotment holders, passers by and anyone caring to join in. 

I was determined to keep the themes and meetings positive, and rather than constant ‘fire fighting’ or fending off awkward questions with equally awkward and pathetic responses I decided to overwhelm the complaints and feelings of dissatisfaction with an overload of information and philosophy, that was the idea anyhow.

Woodland Wednesdays came as we were setting up ‘Active Parks’ sessions and rangers were encouraged to put a programme together. There was no way I was leading ‘zumba’ or ‘pilates’, which at first I thought was some type of Italian food, so we managed to successfully persuade the organisers that woodland management, themed walks and ‘Down To Earth’ activities for young children would fit the bill as far as public health and well being was concerned. This has been most satisfying but is now under threat from budget cuts - which leads nicely to the next question.

Q4.  What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing Birmingham's city parks?

A4. Surviving the budget cuts - check out this link - 

Parks, along with all local authority services have received severe budget cuts for the past 8 or 9 years and there’s no let up this year, in fact the Parks Department is at a critical stage in its existence and by 2020 is likely to be unrecognisable from the department of 2010. 

Wildlife connections - "Modern life is such that it can be hard to see beyond the present"

 (Rob Cowen - Common Ground)
The Brockley Oak at Brockley Grove, Holders Fields
Rob Cowan's early words in 'Common Ground' resonate with many of us as we struggle to come to terms with 'life's meaning'. We are provoked to read on in search of 'the way' forward, an answer maybe or a coping mechanism; 'Common Ground' encourages us to observe the detail around us and to connect with our local green space.

The map of Edge-land at the beginning of the book provides a simplified snapshot of space around Bilton in Yorkshire, but it could be anywhere, a somewhat timeless image that almost everyone can imagine and one that virtually anyone can draw, no scale or perspective required. 
From 'Common Ground'
Modern life is an ordeal, and so it was last year and last decade, last century and beyond; life and survival have always been an ordeal, the present is everything, the future a luxury and the past? well, nostalgic for one, and many prominent men and women have very different things to say about the past - 

""Every past is worth condemning." Friedrich Nietzsche"

""Only a good-for-nothing is not interested in his past." Sigmund Freud"

The great oak trees speak a different history, one in which we can delve, with a little insight and observation and portions of time. As we are sensitive to seasonal changes and aware of light and temperature variations, a visit to the local oak tree aids a distraction from modern life and draws us into unspecified realms in time and space. Like us, and all species, trees have a heritage.

natural history carries a somewhat broader significance beyond the human record and is defined by The Free Dictionary -

The study and description of living things and natural objects, especially their origins, evolution, and relationships to one another. Natural history includes the sciences of zoology, mineralogy, geology, and paleontology.

Friday, 20 January 2017


Cannon Hill Meadow
10.00am January sunburst across the meadow at Cannon Hill. Deep midwinter and mid morning beams stirring the undergrowth.
Brockley Grove

Here I briefly sunbathed with a squirrel as a male Sparrowhawk glides through in hunting mode. The crows stir.

Perhaps it's a youngster as little else seems concerned.

Brockley Grove was once a garden area, between the 1940's and 70's, now it is overgrown and lush, providing good and largely undisturbed cover. 

Badgers abound and the sett is prominent.
Brockley Grove vegetational density
January 20th 2017; a winter's day with frost and blue skies, and enough sunburst to spark the garden and woodland birds into territorial song. 
It's a mixture of dense hawthorn, hazel coppice and regenerating oak scrub, amongst coarse grassland thus providing a rich mix of feeding and shelter opportunity to many birds

Here we hear and see bullfinches abundant together with a variety of other woodland species. 
Brockley Grove scrub, woodland and grassland
The Brockley Oak complete with coding for 'crown reduction'

Today's list included - 
  1. Bullfinch
  2. Blackbird
  3. Nuthatch
  4. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  5. Stock Dove
  6. Magpie
  7. Crow
  8. Blue Tit

The Brockley Oak with winter sun

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Dead Wood - from one blog to another

"the TCV Citizen Science team have been working to produce The Dead Good Deadwood Survey!"

Check this link for an article on dead wood and its benefits to the ecosystem

Dead Wood TCV

Fallen or felled at Holders Woods
Resisting decay - the lying oaks of Holders

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Highbury Park today - Woodland Wednesday, and Nature Improvement Areas

Over the next few weeks until mid March there will be opportunities to engage with like minded volunteers, interact with nature and contribute to the management of both woodland and grassland, as well as exercising mind and body during Woodland Wednesdays at Highbury Park.

Today we continued coppicing, mostly hazel, and opening up the woodland canopy to allow much needed light to reach the lower levels; our efforts are designed to diversify the woodland plantation, adding layers with new regenerating growth in spring and added wildflowers thanks to Eco Park and NIA.

Coppicing at the Highbury Park plantation
A rather worrying observation led to a discussion regarding the level of bark stripping on 25 year old oaks.

Stripped bark on 20 yaer old oak

It seems that squirrels attack oaks and strip the bark, particularly on trees between the age of 10 and 40 years, and in many cases stripping the bark to ground level, as in this situation at Highbury. The results are not good and difficult to explain in ecological terms, but some accounts suggest occurances are greater when oaks are planted next to mature woodland or near mature individual oaks, as again, in this situation at Highbury.

Most of the oaks in the 28 year old plantation at Highbury Park have squirrel damage to some degree.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Cannon Hill Meadow and signs of spring elsewhere

Signs of spring are upon us, hoorah, at least, if not spring, as it's clearly mid winter, we have signs of rebirth, new beginnings, new life, natural occurrings etc.
"Phenology is the study of the timing of natural events in relation to weather and climate." for more information, check the link below -
Snowdrops showing at Kings Heath Park (10th January 2017)

In the midst of winter with arctic conditions forecast and many species yearning the warmer months ahead, we might gain meagre solace, desiring the coming spring, as we witness plants, such as Winter Flowering Cherry, other Prunus species, snowdrops and camelia, to name a few, already in flower.

Over the next few weeks we can expect many changes in the wild, providing us with hopeful signs, positive thoughts and optimism for the year ahead.
The meadow at Cannon Hill, early January 2017

The meadow is flat and somewhat lifeless at the moment
Many plants are evident as prostrate rosettes, hardy specimens
able to withstand winter temperatures (Knapweed spp)