Even if at a general level people know about the benefits of nature on their lives, they tend to regard it as a scenery, a background rather than as an ecosystem in a deep interdependency with their existence. From here the attention paid to it is quite limited, its relevance being utterly underestimated. This attitude can be particularly destructive as it leads to the gradual fading of biodiversity and of its role. Furthermore, nature is frequently referred to in a limitative way as flora (greenery, green areas, plants, …), while most of the times fauna and its role are ignored.
“Green minds” is making a difference by focussing on wildlife in its integrity and paying particular attention to animals and insects, beyond vegetation and in a deep relationship with it and with human life.
In 2020 the Green Minds partnership took some key actions towards this aim. Most notably a citywide reduction in grass cutting and the release of the first male beaver in Derriford Community Park in November. On the ground, change was accompanied by an online communications campaign: including a series of nature-based webinars such as how to take Action for Insects, the release of a wildflower campaign film and an introduction to Beaver Fever and the role of this species in water management.
A keystone species for water environments, the beaver has not been present in Plymouth for over 400 years. They were hunted to extinction from the British Isles in the 16th century for their fur, meat and castorum (used in medicines, perfumes and cosmetics). These animals engineer their surroundings by felling trees, damming sections of river and creating a network of canals. They also create wetland habitats which are great for birds, fish and invertebrates. Hence, they open the way for other re-introductions and further re-wilding initiatives. Moreover, beavers ‘slow the flow’ of water during and after rainfall what can help reduce flooding downstream. They can contribute to combating climate emergency by leading to improved water quality and quantity and store carbon in a really efficient way.
Rescued from the Tay catchment in Scotland, the beaver brought in Plymouth through the Green Minds project (first urban release of this species in the UK) will live in a 3.5 ha re-wilding enclosure, which covers 600m of river in a wooded valley. Its behaviour and actions will be monitored to see if it will reduce flooding further downstream and create habitats for wildlife in the Bircham Valley (compared to other similar water environments in the same area). This action is a humane way of relocating beavers from places where they are over-populating or putting pressure on other rural land uses such as agriculture and forestry. The alternative is lethal methods to cull the population. A female beaver joined the male in January 2021 and will feature in a national BBC nature documentary programme, Winterwatch (29 January 2021).
Beyond the positive effects on the environment and biotope health and scientific contribution (enabling to understand more about the natural benefits provided by this species to people), the 2 beavers should also help Poole farm become a destination for visiting tourists and locals alike. Studies in other beaver locations have shown that beavers are a popular attraction for eco-tourism, bringing income to local businesses. The social aspects of the beavers and the positive effects to wellbeing and mental health will be also monitored. Further social monitoring will help understand more about how visiting the beavers can help our communities to connect to nature.
The reintroduction had an unprecedented reaction and engagement on social media. The video with the first beaver release posted by Plymouth City Council reached 214 372 people and stirred 12 941 reactions (likes, comments, shares) in less than one-month time.
Green Minds are now looking at how the passion and energy around the charismatic beaver reintroduction can be used to engage Plymouth in other, less glamorous elements of their nature-based approach such as reducing pesticides on our streetscape, more wildflowers areas instead of mown grass, and encouraging more people across Plymouth to experience and enjoy nature-rich spaces.
Part of this endeavour, the “Action for Insects” webinar aimed to raise awareness of the role and potential of insects as well as demonstrating how easily it is to make a positive change to stop the decline of these amazing creatures. We all have a role to play in taking action for insects – and it’s not just about creating more wildflowers. According to Green Minds, the wealth of insects and their benefits are largely related to the attention paid to the ‘in-between’ spaces that have to be seen as micro-habitats – not as uncared or untidy residual areas. The Rebel Botanists - a grass-roots community action group co-opted and promoted through the UIA project - have been doing just this by chalking the names of plants (often called ‘weeds’) along the pavements and paths in Plymouth. It is appealing to emotions, explaining how by paying more positive attention to insects and plants can improve our lives with enriched experiences. The recording is freely available on the youtube channel of Green Minds Plymouth https://greenmindsplymouth.com/knowledge-hub/resources/webinar-action-for-insects and more about the Rebel Botanists can be found here .
Similarly to the beaver release, the webinar dedicated to insects was very well received and helped get new followers as well as orient, structure and prepare the following actions of the project. Hence, beyond rendering people aware of the potential of a previously quasi-invisible part of environment, it inspired the organisation of a series of workshops on wildlife and urban nature. At their turn, the latest aided get a better understanding on people’s expectations, needs and readiness to get involved and mobilised them to support the Green Minds adventure. The appeal to emotions of the various actions (beaver release, “Action for insects” webinar and wildflower campaign film) enabled to collect a high number of ideas and volunteering proposals, also from local stakeholders not previously involved.