Covid as an opportunity for Green Minds & nature-based solutions

Cover Photo: bee-on-flower_credit Eva Mcgrath
Photo credit: Eva Mcgrath
How the implementation of the Green Minds project successfully continued over the tough period of the pandemic by seizing the embedded opportunities

The Covid pandemic has challenged the world, putting great pressure also on the European funded projects expected to make proof of resilience and deliver innovative solutions as planned before this crisis - in relatively short time and with increased restrictions. In this context, Green Minds worked with the City Council’s Future Parks Accelerator programme to use the lockdown as an opportunity to test the natural development of different areas in Plymouth through their #NoMowMay campaign. Actually, this idea was already embedded in the project concept, but it could not have been implemented to this extend and so quickly in normal times. The emergence situation accelerated the processes, smoothening the usual bureaucracy and preconceived ideas and facilitated the acceptance of a radical change of management impossible to imagine before.

To cope with reduced staffing caused by Covid-19, regular grass cutting schedules were adapted. This has meant previously mown areas were left to grow longer and wilder. More and more wildflowers have started to appear on verges / alongside pavements and other areas within the city, providing nectar for pollinating insects like bees and butterflies.  The fact that these changes to greenspace ran alongside the well-promoted social media campaign #NoMowMay helped better understand the concept of the project, build support for and change perceptions of wilder space across the city’s communities. Hence, the adversity of the sanitary crisis together with its related problems was transformed into an opportunity for biodiversity and the nature-based solutions tested and promoted through the UIA project.

Available here, the wildflower campaign film is explaining how the change in the management of green areas by the Plymouth City Council is supporting biodiversity and sustainable common stewardship.

Photo credit: Eva Mcgrath
Photo credit: Eva Mcgrath

Additionally, Green Minds capitalised on the increased awareness of people regarding the importance of nature, that was engendered by the Covid restrictions, to get them involved in concrete dedicated actions. Unable to support group volunteering due to health guidelines, the team focused on how people can take action as individuals or with families, simply, at no cost and on their doorstep. Thus, in December 2020, two workshops were organised: the first one on “Take Action for Wildlife” (on December, 9th) and the other one supporting the creation of a Rewilding Network (on December 16th, 2020). The fact that both were online and made use of engaging digital tools, reducing time and resources required, allowed a wider and more diverse participation compared to traditional offline events. Moreover, they facilitated the collection of many inspiring proposals, also from less vocal people, stirring the commitment of new stakeholders susceptible to join the already engaged ones and form a real community acting for nature and nature-based solutions. Besides offering to take action, participants also had the possibility to express the support and resources they might need to implement their “green minds” initiatives. Most of them affirmed their will to get involved in very concrete core actions implying a close contact with nature, like practical conservation activities on site (eg planting, seeding, improving and caring for spaces) or ecological surveys/monitoring (eg beavers, grid square, site baselines).

activities participants would like to do – Workshop 1
Activities participants would like to do – Workshop “Take Action for Wildlife”

Regarding the conditions that would enable the involvement, the flexibility to join as and when they want, the access to information and the experienced guidance/support from organisations and local communities were considered the most important for them.

motivations of participants to take action
Motivations of people to take action: Workshop “Take Action for Wildlife”

The expert guidance and advice were also mentioned as the most important support needed followed by the promotion of the actions people are already doing.

Asked about the meaning of urban rewilding, people tend to associate it mainly with a re-connection with nature and genuine life, balance between humankind and nature, biodiversity, wellbeing, beauty and health.

Word cloud: urban rewilding meaning
Word cloud: urban rewilding meaning

Among the most frequently mentioned rewilding opportunities in Plymouth there were the residual spaces viewed as possible green connectors and the private land integrated into the general green and blue ecosystems through individual small-scale actions.

Word cloud: future rewilding ideas
Word cloud: future rewilding ideas

In terms of process the rewilding operation should have people at its core building a dedicated community around it.

Word cloud: rewilding priorities

Furthermore, an unexpected side effect of the pandemic was the consistent increase of the general interest in nature and nature-based solutions. This was complemented by a better understanding of the role of public administration and landowners as well as of the potential of individual or group involvement in this area. When the project initiated, there were only the public administration and nature related associations that were taking action in the field trying to raise awareness on the importance of flora and fauna in cities. The sanitary crisis determined many other stakeholders, like for instance a well-known charity dedicated to children education, contact the city council and express their interest in getting involved in nature actions or propose related initiatives. This change of attitude determined the project partners to revisit their vision and approach by exploring more in deep the issues of leadership in nature and collaborative stewardship based on the ideas and help proposed by the various stakeholders. The new context of the crisis also brought to their attention the need to allow for more flexibility in terms of content as well as of process and implicitly to ease the administrative procedures became more fluid lasting the pandemic.

Regarding the internal organisation, the partnership meetings moved online. The fact that no travels were needed, allowed to increase their frequency (once a month) and focus. This new organisation proved to be very effective, improving the internal communication as well as the occasions of collaborative work and decision making. Hence this experience determined the consortium update their concept and planning until the end of the project, also enabling to test various digital tools and provide insights on how to optimise the collaborative management of the project.

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