Plus: Council tax set to rise, adventure playgrounds at risk and Leicestershire Police funding shortfall.
Why biodiversity matters, and how we can improve it
The Gazette hears from Helen Pettman, managing editor at the Evington Echo and chair of the Friends of Evington.
On 22 May, Leicester city council launched the Grassland Strategy 2023-2033 at Abbey Park. It was attended by deputy mayor Adam Clarke, senior park officers – including the parks manager – and others. I was there presenting Evington in Bloom, an environmental campaign managed by our charity, Friends of Evington.
1. Annual flowers: These are sites created on roadside verges and suitable park grassland areas to create a highly visual display of native and non-native plants with a flowering season between March and mid-October.
2. Perennial meadows (cut and lift): This method is applied to previously species poor grassland by deliberate seeding to improve biodiversity and carbon storage.
3. Flowering lawn: These are deliberately created with a rich mix of hardy wildflowers and can withstand cutting up to six times a year.
4. Naturalised grass (one cut): This is created on previously species-poor grassland providing invertebrate support and reducing the carbon footprint of maintenance.
5. Naturalised grass (cut and lift): This is similar to naturalised grass areas, but the cuttings are removed.
6. Biennial cut: These are generally species-poor grasses that are cut every two years. They are often adjacent to more biodiverse areas to protect them due to the infrequency of the cut. They require minimal resource but provide a high value biodiversity as they provide shelter and hibernation sites for invertebrate and small mammals.
Sports, formal lawns, and specialist grassed areas are not included as part of this strategy for grasslands.
I was excited to see such a comprehensive document to protect biodiversity, protect existing sites including the council’s bee corridors, the role of our pollinators and their decline, and the wider climate emergency.
The challenge now will be around the implementation and communication of the strategy to the public. Now, the community need to be actively involved because without this people will be critical, unengaged, and not onboard with the changes this strategy brings. People’s engagement and support can enrich the strategy’s implementation.
The council have been developing an online system for the public to register for volunteering. There are a range of activities that they can join in with from improving horticulture in parks and open spaces to cleaning waterways and monitoring activities. These volunteering activities are managed through the council’s scheme called Leicester Environmental Volunteers (LEV) and with a few exceptions, are managed by trained council staff dedicated to good practice and working with volunteers.
Alongside this scheme, the council also support numerous It’s Your Neighbourhood (IYN) schemes throughout the city. Before Covid-19, there were over 40 of these schemes in Leicester and the numbers are building up again now.
There are, for example, nine IYN groups in Evington for 2023. These groups receive site agreements from Leicester city council and have their own volunteer leaders. They also work with volunteers, and arrange volunteer sessions.
IYN groups are registered with the Royal Horticultural Society and East Midlands in Bloom and follow the three pillars of community, environmental responsibility and horticultural achievement. Some people complain that this is just a money saving scheme to get the volunteers to do all the work and cut down on paid jobs. But, I don’t see it like that because the setup is not abusive in any way, and with climate change as a real threat, people want to help.
The system offers choices: you can choose if you want to help with LEV or you can choose to set up your own project in your own area to improve things. As things are developing, it is usually environmental charities, like Friends of Evington, that help and support smaller IYNs to set up.
Working together on environmental projects helps with mental health by combating loneliness and allowing volunteers the enjoyment of improving a local area and learning from others. Also, the more people who get involved and interested in the strategy and its implementation, then the more green jobs may result.
Where I think the council needs help from the community is with reporting their strategies and implementation schemes and where they are successful and where they fail.
The Community Ownership Fund provided by government further demonstrates the commitment to levelling up local communities and supporting community-driven projects. Through this fund community groups are allowed to acquire and manage local assets. Community groups working with government representatives will help make sure this money is really targeted at grassroot level. It is a model that wants to promote inclusive decision-making by building trust, partnerships, and implementing the strategies that are not only for grasslands but for health and wellbeing.
The Grassland Strategy is available to view on the council’s website.