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WEG volunteers with tools and wheelbarrow

Inspire

with hope

How a small community group grew to create a better future for people and planet. By Paul Snookes, cofounder of Worcester Environmental Group

The purpose of this article is to help those of us who are frustrated with the way green spaces are managed in our neck of the woods (see what we did there?). We hope that our journey and what we have accomplished will inspire you to have a go too. It's astonishing how a few people with a desire to do something positive can make a real difference. It is our dream that together we can inspire and learn from each other and together we can help all of our communities thrive in a flourishing natural environment.


Here are 10 lessons Worcester Environmental Group (WEG) has learned since 2018.


1. Start small

It all started in the summer of 2018 when we organised a few guided walks in urban green spaces in Warndon Villages, Worcester with an amazing local volunteer ecologist. We simply posted on our local Facebook group about the events. They proved to be very popular.

WEG guided walk

There's bound to be somebody locally who is willing to do something like this for you. If you don't ask, the answer is no, right?


2. Offer to help with a manageable project

Find a manageable project that you can help your community with. In early 2019 we noticed a local orchard was being neglected because Worcester City Council didn't have any wildlife rangers any more. It took a while to find who we needed to contact in the city council so that we could start undoing years of neglect. If you find it difficult to find out who to contact, don't give up. Ask your local councillors for help or put it out in your local social media, for example.


Finally, when we managed to meet the council officer on the site, we simply offered to clear the scrub that had grown in the fruit cages. It was a job that nobody else was going to do.

Two women clearing scrub from around a tree

You might be lucky and still have wildlife rangers. There's a good chance that they aren't able to tackle all the jobs that need doing. Find a small corner somewhere that has been overlooked and offer to do something about it. Or alternatively, offer to help them as a volunteer with their projects. It was a common arrangement for volunteers to assist the wildlife rangers prior to us losing them.


You will be pleased to know that in 2024 it's a thriving traditional orchard with a beautiful developing wildflower hay meadow too. We are now restoring or creating several new traditional orchards and wildflower hay meadows around Worcester.


We have lost the vast majority of our traditional orchards, where over 1,800 species have been recorded to thrive in these invaluable habitats. Equally, we have lost over 97% of our traditional hay meadows. Imagine the impact, if all over the country we managed to do the same. Who doesn't want more bees, bats, birds, butterflies and beetles?


3. Network, network, network and network!

We noticed that the fields next to the traditional orchard were turning back into scrub. Although scrub is a wonderful habitat for wildlife, developers, the public and the planning department often see scrubland as wasteland ripe for development.


Through our own network, we sought the advice of a grassland specialist who advised us that the whole area could be turned into a wildflower hay meadow. This could be done over several years by replicating the traditional hay meadow regime of cutting and removing the hay at the end of each summer. Without that expertise and advice we wouldn't have known what to do.

Paul Snookes leaning against orchard sign

We then went on to gradually form a steering group of the most amazing ecologists and experts to advise us. We can't shut them up! Finally someone is keen to listen to and apply their advice.


By then we had a bit of a track record with the city council having saved the orchard. We got their permission to clear all the scrub and ragwort so that a farmer could come in and cut it for hay.


4. Be a can-do group, not a protest group

In our opinion, there's a need for both types of groups. We deliberately chose to be a can-do group, as we felt there were plenty of great protests groups doing some really amazing things. At the time that we started one particular political party had the majority of city councillors in Worcester. We felt that we would have a better chance of making the positive changes we wanted to see if we collaborated rather than protested.

Orchard haymeadow wildflowers
WEG volunteers with spades

This approach has proved to be a great success, and has resulted in us being able to work closely with all of the political parties and the council staff. In turn we have gone on from those early projects to enhance the biodiversity and engage with our community in many other parts of the city. Here is a list of our achievements from 2018 to early 2024.


5. Make it clear that people are at the heart of your project

Our logo is a person holding some green leaves. We have consistently given the clear and unambiguous message that people are at the centre of everything we do.

Groups of volunteers clearing trees
WEG logo, blue figure holding green leaves

We are helping our community to thrive in a flourishing natural environment. In fact, we are not trying to save the planet. The planet will be doing absolutely fine in another million years from now. This is about us being part of nature and without a healthy planet we cannot survive. We give a message of hope for a better future.


6. Be doggedly persistent

We had now proved ourselves to be a positive, can-do, reliable small group of volunteers known as the Villages Environmental Group (VEG) because we focussed on one area in Worcester known as Warndon Villages.


We then decided to make what was potentially a big step: getting the council to agree to give us a 50m trial grass verge that would be managed for the environment. The city and parish council had for decades insisted on all the verges being kept 'neat and tidy' as it was their perception that this is what the residents expected. It wasn't easy, but they reluctantly agreed.

Purple and yellow wildflowers

Look at the result in a very short time. And that is without planting one single plant or sowing one single seed. Much to our relief, through lots of social and local mass media coverage, this initial trial verge proved to be really popular with the majority of our residents.


The door opened a bit wider again.


7. Communicate, communicate and communicate!

​​We can't emphasise enough how important it is to communicate with as many people as possible in as many ways as possible. The only message people have had for decades is that everything MUST be neat and tidy at all costs. In our experience, when you fully engage with people and give them a positive message of hope that we can have more bees, birds, bats and butterflies if it's not so neat and tidy, then most people get on board.

We communicated via posts with carvings + QR codes, notice boards, social media, shows/fetes, presentations, word of mouth, local newspapers and radio stations.


8. Keep picking yourself up

You will get knock backs again and again and again. They hurt. You will want to give up. Take a breather. Get up off the floor and have another go. Eventually, you will see a pattern emerging. You've been through this before and got through it. You know that given a few days you will get back on your feet.


We can't emphasise this enough. It's really the only way to make the changes we want to see in the world. Just don't give up. Keep trying. Stick at it. It really is worth it. It will pay off in the end. You will see the changes you dream of. We promise.


9. Success breeds success

We started off with one simple project with an informal group. We became a registered charity and changed our name to Worcester Environmental Group in January 2021, due to other organisations asking us to help them around the whole city. Since then we have undertaken many projects to help our community to thrive more in a flourishing natural environment.

Women and children looking at bird boxes

10. Inspire with hope

There's enough eco-anxiety around. It paralyses people. An inspiring message of hope for a better future where we can thrive together in a flourishing natural environment is the way forward. One person can make a real difference. Yes you! Please join us. Together we really can create a better future.

Before retiring, Paul worked in higher and further education with students from all over the world. He has become increasingly concerned about the condition that we will leave the planet in for future generations. This has led him to actively involve himself in many environmental causes and organisations. He puts people and nature at the heart of everything he does. For this reason he cofounded WEG in 2020.


He has recently become involved in a startup enterprise, Nature Nexus, to help more organisations to enhance the biodiversity on their sites.


To contact Paul email engagement@theweg.org.uk.

Little Green Space March 2024

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