Worcester Environmental Group came into being in June 2020. We started off as The VEG - The Villages Environmental Group in the summer of 2019 to:
Protect and enhance the biodiversity of Warndon Villages
Educate the residents of Warndon Villages about the biodiversity in our area
Improve the wellbeing of residents by creating more opportunities to connect with our local environment
Warndon Villages is a modern (around 25 to 30 years old) suburb on the east boundary of Worcester near to Junction 6 on the M5. It is rather unusual in that it has extensive amounts of green spaces that include wide verges, woodland, cycle and walking routes, orchards, many ponds and extensive areas of grassland. We understand that it won a national award for its innovative design that kept the rural aspect of the original farmland.
Some years ago Paul Snookes approached our Parish councillor responsible for the environment to talk about the possibility of having some native wildflower verges in place of some our very closely mown roadside verges. He was very firmly turned down because “the residents expected the verges to look neat and tidy”. At that time, the Parish Council was predominantly made up of councillors who liked things as they were. Paul was quite discouraged and couldn’t think of a way forward.
Meanwhile he became a very active member of The Friends of Warndon Villages and also helped maintain a local community orchard. We were a group of volunteers who worked closely with the City Council and some of the Parish Councillors. The main focus was on tidying up areas that had become overgrown and the planting of some fruit trees. Through this Paul got to know quite a few of the local activists, some of the Parish Councillors and also some of the City Council employees responsible for taking care of the environment.
Over time, he built up quite a network of local contacts. Several who have become anywhere from acquaintances, to people with whom he has a good working relationship, to close friends. This has been a major factor in the success we are now starting to enjoy.
Fortunately, the makeup of the Parish Council changed with more councillors willing to consider some of the changes that Paul and others were keen on. He started to lobby Parish and City Councillors behind the scenes and was also active in local groups on social media. Alison Morgan, who Paul had worked well with on other projects was incredibly supportive. Without her engagement he wouldn’t have had another go at the native wildflower project. For him 1 + 1 = 3. Also through social media a local resident started looking for a suitable site for us to establish our first wildflower verge.
Paul also knew a couple of professional ecologists who very kindly gave him a lot of their invaluable time and advice. He says he is just an enthusiastic layperson who is passionate about the environment. Without their initial guidance, he thinks he would probably have gone off in completely the wrong direction. For example, he hadn’t fully appreciated the difference between the native meadow perennial wildflowers and the visually stunning displays of very often non-native annuals you see on roundabouts and verges in some UK cities. The former are enormously beneficial for our invertebrates, which in turn bring in birds, bats and other species. The latter are a delight to look at, but don’t provide the all year round benefit of our native wildflowers. Our experts put him straight!
We approached the Parish Council at a formal meeting and mentioned our aspiration to have one area as a pilot native wildflower plot. To our surprise, our proposal was not rejected this time. Buoyed with this success, we then needed to start trying to work with the City Council who actually own and maintain all the green spaces. This proved to be more challenging than you can imagine. It was very
difficult to find the right person to speak to. Even the Chair of the Parish didn’t meet with any success. Eventually, after many phone calls and emails Paul managed to find the right Council Officer we needed to talk to. We arranged a meeting and several of us met on site to discuss the possibility of having a wildflower verge in a place we had identified as having a diverse range of suppressed wildflowers due to them having been mowed on a regular basis for decades. The Council Officer was new to the job and was very enthusiastic about our idea. We finally had permission to go ahead with a relatively small area of about 40m by 20m.
We then decided to set up a separate environmental group (The VEG - The Villages Environmental Group) and started to look for potential sites other than roadside verges. We are fortunate enough to have quite a few extensive fields in Warndon Villages. These had been neglected for several years with coarse grasses and thorny scrub starting to encroach and overpower what had been ancient wildflower meadows. With a pool of around 30 volunteers we set to clearing the fields of scrub and in one area ragwort - a farmer had offered his services to harvest the grass as hay for his cattle. Ragwort can be toxic to horses and cattle.
Other fields were cut and the grass collected by the City Council. This is a necessary regime to mimic how traditional meadows were managed. Fertility drops and the native wildflowers can then flourish. Incidentally, Paul had lobbied two key City Councillors a few years before to get them to purchase cut and collect machines. This was in anticipation of us having native wildflower verges and meadows in the future. We were on our way!
We have had a very supportive County Councillor, Andy Roberts, who has given us around £1,000 of his Divisional Fund to buy equipment and services. We have made bat and bird boxes and also the posts with the bird and bee symbols to indicate to passersby that the wildflower verge is intentional. We tried for a City Council Community grant but failed because it was too much focussed on the environment and not enough on the community. Lesson learnt.
We have now been given the go ahead to have a few more wildflower verges in Warndon Villages. Again this took quite a bit of time networking with key people.
In conclusion Paul would say that the key is (a) to be patient - it can take a long time (b) build a network of allies of people who are in positions to bring about the changes you are aiming for (c) get a good group of volunteers around you.
The Founding of The WEG - Worcester Environmental Group
Over time individuals and organisations around Worcester started to ask us (The VEG - The Villages Environmental Group) for advice and help with their projects such as creating wildlife corridors throughout our city along roads, parks, the canal and river, and gardens. We then decided to expand our horizons and work with residents and organisations across the whole of the city. And thus we changed our name to The WEG - Worcester Environmental Group in June 2020 theweg.org.uk
Worcester has extensive green spaces within its boundaries.
Why Have we Expanded into The WEG?
The UK is unfortunately one of the most nature depleted countries on this planet according to The WWF. In 2014/15 around 83% of the UK population lived in urban environments. Many urban residents do not have easy access to green spaces and can therefore be disconnected from nature. This often results in a reduction in both physical and mental wellbeing as well as less concern with preserving the environment we completely depend on for the air we breathe and the food we eat.
Our vision for Worcester is for it to become an oasis for people and nature.