Revaluing weeds in the biodiversity emergency

Yesterday a council contractor rode up and down our street spraying weed killer on the pavements, grass and tree pits. I was dumbstruck. This is the biodiversity crisis manifesting literally on my doorstep. And at the same time double standards. Here you have a council that has led the way in the UK in declaring both climate and ecological emergencies. All the while its contractors are spraying weedkiller on its streets. For me this encapsulates the fundamental challenge of the ecological crisis: we understand at some high level that something must be done but we can’t translate that into what a thriving ecosystem looks like.

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Human-scale chalk stream restoration.

Image of Letcombe brook chalk steam

On this afternoon’s walk we had the joy of arriving at a chalk stream. We had started high on the Ridgeway and descended quickly down through the Devil’s Punchbowl, a dry valley. And it was at the lowest point on our walk that we came upon Letcombe Brook. At this site, conservationist are working to recreate the natural conditions of a chalk stream to enable wildlife to thrive.

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Connection with nature through drawing

Pencil sketch of an ash tree at Hazel Hill wood to illustrate a post about connection with nature through drawing

I drew this ash tree at Hazel Hill Wood last weekend. Though it rises opposite a bench where I like to have a morning coffee, I have never paid it much attention. But doing a twenty-minute sketch I am discovering the tree. Climbing the trunk that rises without foothold for a third of its height. Noticing for the first time its rhythm – the trees spatial ordering. How one trunk becomes a thousand twigs, like a trachea transitioning to countless alveoli.

As I draw I see a space in the canopy to the left, one that I would not have noticed otherwise. I presume it is a space left by another tree that is now fallen, on the ground but leaving its imprint in the sky.

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Planting parking spaces is a dismal affair

Oliver Broadbent holding a watering can in a carpark to illustrate his post Planting Parking Spaces

Planting parking spaces is a dismal affair.

When you water them, the water just drains away.

The rich soil underneath is capped.

Parking spaces don’t flower; don’t make nectar, don’t produce fruit that we can eat.

Insects stay away; birds fly over.

Never do they grow, rise up from the ground, spread their branches to oxygenate the air.

No one returns in 30 years time and says I planted that parking space.

No generation thanked the last for planting more.

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Questions to ask your colleagues in the biodiversity emergency

The biodiversity emergency requires us to change how we value and relate to the ecosystems that support us.

Values shift when we change our habits. Habits are the rituals and routines that form part of an organisation’s culture. Work the habits to shift the culture.

We see it in Toyota’s Improvement Kata, which uses habit to reinforce behaviours around improvement, adaptation and innovation. We see it in the ‘safe-start’ procedure used for meetings in safety-critical industries.

And so I’m wondering what might be questions that we might routinely ask each other of our projects in organisations that have declared a biodiversity emergency?

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Book notes – The Hidden Life of Trees

Black and white image of a tree canopy in winter, looking a bit like a series of river tributaries joining together.

It feels right as I take on my new role at Hazel Hill Wood to read the Hidden Life of Trees. This is an evolving post based on notes I take as I read through the book.

From the foreward: ‘The author’s deep understanding of the lives of trees, reached through decasdes of careful observation and study, reveals a world so astonishing that if you read his book, I believe that forests will become magical places for you too.’

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#18 Hazel Hill Wood – Dawn chorus sonic lockdown therapy- show-notes

Black and white image of a tree canopy in winter, looking a bit like a series of river tributaries joining together.

30 minutes of uninterrupted dawn chorus Hazel Hill Wood, recorded at the end of March. Hazel Hill is woodland nature reserve and education centre helping frontline staff develop resilience and wellbeing through connection with nature. While people are prevented from visiting the woods during lockdown, the team are working on ways to bring the wood to them during lockdown. Listening suggestions:

  • Early in the morning
  • Over breakfast
  • In the background while you work
  • To clear your mind at the end of work
  • Late at night as you drift off to sleep
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My neighbours don’t like bees

We planted a hedge of lavender on our estate to revitalise a barren patch of soil near our front door. This sunny morning, the enthusastic lavender stems were bobbing up and down laden with bees. There must have been between 20 and 30. I went to count, as part of the Great British Bee Count. And so it was that I had conversations with several of my neighbours about bees, and I was depressed by what I heard.

  • One complemented me on the lavender, but said the only problem with lavender is that it attracts bees.
  • A second reported hatred for bees, having been repeatedly stung by that very flower bed, before conceding they had been wasps.
  • The third, having been complementary about the flowers, reported a bee had dive bombed from twenty metres above delibrately to sting him and concluded they must be evil.