11 Dec 2020 Greening and Urban Regeneration: vital for Wellbeing and Connection with Nature
In this article Dr. Peter Shepherd, BSG Ecology Director, and a former Urban Conservation Officer for the Nottingham Urban Wildlife Scheme (NUWS), shares some personal thoughts on an exciting proposal for re-greening part of Nottingham City Centre.
Due to my history with NUWS, I was intrigued to see the ideas for re-greening of Nottingham city centre put forward by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust (NWT) and reported by the Guardian newspaper1.
In common with many a former Nottingham resident I remember the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre well. However, not many know it is a site with a history of having nature at its heart dating back to when it was first built in the early 1970’s. Then the influential and indomitable local campaigner for urban wildlife, Miss E.M Palmer of the City Group of NWT (one of the countries earliest urban wildlife advocates), argued persuasively that the shopping centre development retain a courtyard to protect a wild population of trailing toadflax (Asarina procumbens) growing on its walls. At the time this was thought to be only one of two known naturalized populations in England. Although a non-native plant, it was unusual, and its presence in Nottingham was thought to be linked to the early pharmaceutical industry in the city (Nottingham is the home of Boots the Chemist). A connection was made and the courtyard retained. For many years this success was marked by an annual visit by NWT City Group members to inspect the population which I seem to remember involved going through the store room of the clothing store C&A!
In the 1970’s and 80’s Nottingham was at the forefront of the appreciation of the value of nature in cities and its importance to people, and today remains a very green City. It would therefore be fitting for decision makers to continue this tradition, and to reflect the growing recognition of the loss of nature, and the link between access to nature and green spaces for people in our towns and cities and their quality of life. A new green environment at the heart of a future urban regeneration scheme for the Broadmarsh Centre would certainly clearly demonstrate the green credentials and intent of this vibrant city. This should not just be a facsimile of rural habitats, but a green space that reflects its urban location and history. There should be room to maintain the past links with the pharmaceutical industry and the plants it relied upon. It is also an opportunity to resurrect the link with another plant strongly associated with Nottingham City and the meadows area – the Nottingham (Autumn) crocus (Crocus nudiflorus)2.
The Nottingham Crocus is another introduced plant, but one that has links further back in time than the trailing toadflax – back to the crusades and the Cluniac monks of Lenton Priory. However, it, like the trailing toadflax, has been a powerful ally in making strong cases for creating new habitat in the City over the years.
Greening of our urban environment is increasingly vital and achievable with green roofs, green walls, rain gardens, new standards such as the Urban Greening Factor and great public space design. Today, there are numerous inspiring examples of urban development and regeneration that deliver new homes, offices and green spaces with room for nature. The key is attention to detail and to recognise that there is a continuum of ‘nature contact opportunity’ in all new urban design from the larger scale in the form of parks, new meadows, woodlands and wetlands to the very local level, such as the small secluded public or private garden where a resident or visitor can have daily contact with bird song, bees, butterflies and flowers. These may not be rare examples of biodiversity, but they are familiar and constant, and each contact with nature however small can add value to the quality of life for someone. This requires good design with a clear focus on delivering nature contact at every opportunity, involving close co-operation between architects, landscape architects, urban designers, planners and of course ecologists. The proposal for the Broadmarsh Centre site from the Wildlife Trust is exciting, but I would argue should not be seen as radical or overly ambitious; with commitment, much of it is deliverable. My one wish if it proceeds? I would love to see rooftop crocus meadows that burst into colour with spring and autumn flowers each year – all from Nottingham stock of course!
Peter Shepherd is one of BSG Ecology’s four Directors. He is the author of “The Plants of Nottingham: A City Flora,” and has significant experience of urban regeneration projects aimed at maximizing biodiversity benefits, not least as the lead ecologist in the design of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, east London.
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