Green Spaces & Green Prescriptions: BOSF Conference 2023

We gathered once again to talk about green spaces last Saturday 7th October. Birmingham TreePeople (BTP) attended the Annual Birmingham Open Spaces Forum (BOSF) Conference. It was held at the Midlands Arts Centre (MAC), amongst many other Friends and environmental groups. The aim of the yearly gatherings is to update and thank the various volunteer groups, for their committed work throughout Birmingham. It also spreads awareness of the importance of nature and green spaces, sharing ideas between partners.

After a short introduction by Emma Woolf, introducing us to BOSF Trustees, Councillor Majid Mahmood gave his speech. The Cabinet Member for the Environment thanked the devoted non-profits for the 24,000 days of volunteering provided to the city. This is no mere feat, he explained, as these days equal over a million pounds of investment. Investment that goes back into green spaces and urban forests.

Darren Share, attending his last conference as BCC Head of Parks, followed Councillor Mahmood’s talk. He pushed the importance of links to nature and green spaces. BTP helped the city gain the status of Tree City of the World back in 2019. That’s one reason why Share could comfortably state that Birmingham is ahead of other UK cities. He stated he has travelled extensively around the UK, but nowhere has the volunteering network that this metropolis has. Raising the profile of our work can only help us create and preserve more green space.

The Greater Good of Green Spaces

Individual members of groups within the audience had the chance to participate in a question-and-answer session, with Councillor Mahmood and Share. The former was enlightening, informing us the Council would like this to be “the city of a thousand parks”. Thus, improving the mental health and well-being of local residents.

Councillor Majid Mahmoodand Darren Share, during the BOSF Conference 2023, highlighting the importance of green spaces during questions and answers

Alternatively, the unfortunate austerity bought about by budget cuts impacted on Birmingham’s 631 parks (two of these the largest in the country) in different ways. Some worse than others, and those smaller parks need some extra help – especially with fly-tipping.

A keen spectator asked:
“How can what we are doing be seen in a wider context of benefitting the city?”
Share rightly pointed out that research gathered from the work we do speaks for itself, as well as informing the Council. Mahmood highlighted the clear link between mental and physical health and open spaces. If dialogue can be created between the groups, the city, and public health – with social or ‘green’ prescribing starting to take off – a connection between us and nature can be further established. This will build upon the current projects and achievements of the passionate volunteers.

“Parks play a wider role than just being fun.”

– Councillor Majid Mahmood

Jeevan Jones, of the Save Birmingham campaign, gave a presentation highlighting their intentions of registering assets of community value. This will help communities protect and provide green spaces, or other environmental features and buildings, for the years to come. They will do this by finding out what the residents care about around their wards, to register assets – through consultation with Commissioners if possible – of community value. BOSF have recently joined the Save Birmingham campaign.

Save Birmingham, at the BOSF Conference 2023 - everyone holding up the save birmingham leaflets for a photo
Save Birmingham at the BOSF Conference 2023. Everyone holding up the leaflets for a photo with Jeevan. Click here to see their version of the photo on Instagram!

The Friends of the Parks’ Tree Trails, with BTP: Green Spaces & Green Prescriptions Part 1

After the ‘Just A Minute’ updates with representatives of each group, Ian (Mac) McDermott opened the Tree Trails presentation with the usual injection of humour. He delved into the background of BTP: our status as Tree City, being the largest volunteer network in the country, having a primary hand in the Urban Forest Master Plan, and a Call-To-Action for volunteers for the Street Tree Survey and our upcoming Nechells and Newtown tree planting.

Mac also added onto the health and social aspect of the Tree Trails. He proclaimed the evident nature of the walks being inherently healthy for the mind and body, making the Friends’ trails perfect for green prescriptions. The more trees the walk has, the more steps per trail or from tree to tree, the inclusion of hills and gradients… They all contribute towards this concept. With this in mind, Mac, also a representative of the Friends of Brunswick Park, mentioned their new Tree Trail ‘The Newbs’, focusing on newly planted trees.

Deanne Brettle, BTP Trustee and BIFoR Project Manager, explained the ease of mapping the trees for each trail using TreePlotter. The software ensures that users will need a mobile and internet connection, but digitising the walks guarantees more information. This includes images of different seasons.

Dee Brettle from BTP giving her presentation of tree trails and the importance of this green space.

Split Sessions:
Bird Walk & Social Prescribing

Green Spaces and Green Prescriptions Part 2

After a second round of ‘Just A Minute’, and a fruitful networking lunch with trail enquiries, the tree congregation parted into two halves. Natalie of RSPB, gave a riveting walk and talk about the local birds around Cannon Hill Park. Meanwhile, Emma directed an indoor session probing into more health and social prescribing.

It was noted that our environmental groups have been green prescribing before it was even ‘a thing’. Despite the struggles with approaching social prescribing, it’s certainly the way forward. Pond dipping, bird walks, wood walks, tree trails, planting, surveying; any and all of these outdoor activities can contribute positively towards mental health and well-being. It can even function as preventative, it tackles anxiety, it improves mindfulness and connection.

Mac (BTP), Jill (FoBP), Helen (BOSF), and Becky (BOSF) enjoying the Bird Walk, by Natalie (RSPB).
Mac (BTP), Jill (FoBP), Helen (BOSF), and Becky (BOSF) enjoying the Bird Walk by Natalie (RSPB).

BTP intend to develop this idea of green prescriptions further, using the knowledge gained from the conference. We will do this by emphasising the extensive effort of the Friends’ and their Tree Trails. Developing these walks and providing them online would be a skilled and straightforward way to access them.

Final Words

Big thanks to Mary and Emma of BOSF, who hosted the conference confidently despite absences, making sure the groups know the BOSF Coffee Afternoon will take place on 7th November in Eco Building. As it creeps closer to Christmas, the BOSF Christmas Event will be at the Council House on December 12th. Thank you to all the inspiring volunteers and charities who continue to make Birmingham a better place.

Groups in attendance were The Friends of Cannon Hill, Handsworth, Ley Hill, Selly Oak, Swanshurst Parks and Bartley Reservoir, as well as Ampersand Project, Birmingham and Solihul Mental Health Trust, Fields Millenium Trust, Hill Hook Nature Reserve, Moseley in Bloom, Northfield Environmental Forum, RSPB, Save Birmingham, Seedcorn Fund, Springfield Project, Warm Earth.

Apologies if your group has been missed; this is not intentional. Please contact us to add a group name if you’d like to be credited.