In 2019, Colchester City Council launched the Colchester Woodland and Biodiversity Project, presenting a unique opportunity for everyone in the community to work together and develop a legacy of a greener city for future generations.
Launched shortly after the council declared a Climate Emergency in July, the five-year project aims to:
- Improve the health and wellbeing of citizens;
- Help people connect with the environment;
- Develop, enhance, and diversify the wildlife within Colchester;
- And reduce the council’s environmental impact while influencing others to follow their lead.
The project is led by three key aims, and there are lots of different activities involved. Here are just some examples:
Aim 1. For our communities
Every year since the project launched, the council has invited the public to join them at locations across the city to help plant trees during the planting season (November – March). In addition, they also supply plants to other organisations in the community. As a result, over 68,000 trees have been planted throughout the course of the project so far.
Colchester City Council works in collaboration with several organisations (including the Woodland Trust, The Big Green Internet, the Trust for Conservation Volunteers, the Ministry of Defence, Wivenhoe Town Council, the Unity Academy and Kent Wildlife Trust) to identify suitable planting locations across the city. As well as providing funding for the trees, the Woodland Trust also provides biodegradable rabbit guards to help protect each specimen without the risk of contaminating the environment with plastic debris.
All the planting days under the project are supported by Together We Grow CIC – a not-for-profit social enterprise based at the beautiful Big Garden in High Woods Country Park. They aim to improve people’s lives by encouraging engagement with nature.
When Covid-19 restrictions stopped the public planting events from taking place in early 2021, Together We Grow continued to plant trees as part of the project, even working with Refugee Action Colchester to establish a men’s mental health group that also supported planting activity.
Check it out here:
Covid blossom circles
In the project’s third year (2021), the planting season was launched with four blossom circles at Kings Head Meadow in Castle Park as a memorial for the lives lost during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Council worked with members of the public and invited NHS and community workers to partake in the planting.
Based on the popular Japanese custom of Hanami (enjoying the transient beauty of flowers), which is an established part of culture in Japan, the idea builds on an initiative launched by the National Trust, which saw blossom circles planted as a Covid-19 memorial in London, Newcastle, Nottingham, Plymouth and other locations across the UK.
In addition, the council worked with local poets to create poetry that was displayed alongside the blossom circles. The ambition was for this space to be used as a place to remember all those who lost their lives, honour key workers and reflect on the community’s shared experience of the pandemic.
Through the project, the council has come into contact with several members of the public who have taken it upon themselves to become ‘tree guardians’ and help support the initiative by regularly checking in on newly planted trees in the green spaces. The council team, who looks after the project, remain in regular contact with these tree guardians and supply them with materials they need, such as mallets, bamboo canes and rabbit guards. The council is always on the lookout for more guardians across the city.
The community orchards element of the project was launched in August 2022, with an open invitation to all community groups, schools and town and parish councils to propose sites where fruit trees might be grown to provide habitats for wildlife and a food source for people and pollinators alike. This autumn, 170 fruit trees are being delivered and the team continues working with the local community to identify more sites suitable for fruit trees.
Trees for years
The council also holds an annual Trees for Years giveaway – giving free trees to residents! Usually taking place in February, the initiative offers residents a helping hand to green up their gardens and the borough. Around 10,000 trees and shrubs are made available to residents, schools and community groups.
Over the last two years, the council has made this giveaway even more accessible to the community by developing a click-and-collect service using several parish council and community group locations across the city as the collection points.
This scheme is made possible through sponsorship from idVerde, which works in partnership with the council to maintain the borough’s green spaces, and through funding from the Colchester Woodland and Biodiversity Project.
Aim 2. For our wildlife
Cymbeline Meadows – Creating a new woodland
Colchester City Council have exciting plans to transform Cymbeline Meadows into a large, diverse nature reserve. The 74-hectare site, which currently includes riverside grazing meadows and woodland, is on track to become a mosaic of habitats designed to increase biodiversity and attract a wide range of wildlife.
The plans encompass creating 0.4 hectares of wetland, 1.8 hectares of natural regeneration/scrubland, over 7 hectares of tree planting, wildflower-rich grassland areas, an area for winter bird seed, and at least 580 meters of hedgerow. This will involve planting an estimated 8,000 trees and 3,500 plants to create the new hedgerows.
In September 2020, the council’s Environment and Sustainability Panel agreed to end the use of glyphosate-based products on Colchester City Council-owned land for general maintenance by the end of March 2021. A managed approach to phase out glyphosate was developed and used across Colchester’s green spaces. The council also worked with partners, such as Colchester Borough Homes, to phase out the use of glyphosate from general use in their operations, too.
An exception is made for treating some invasive species, such as Japanese knotweed and giant hogweed, which are a serious threat to biodiversity. With these invasive species, the chemical is safely injected into the plant.
Aim 3. For our environment
No mow, more sow
The council has changed the grass-cutting regime in several areas across the city to encourage greater biodiversity in green spaces. This approach will encourage wildflower growth and help develop the area for invertebrates such as bees, butterflies and moths. The project team worked with local schools to design signage for these sites that explained why they were being left to grow.
The project is run in collaboration with Wivenhoe Town Council, Elmstead Parish Council, the Wivenhoe Biodiversity Group and contractors ID Verde to trial applying a conservation management approach to green spaces in residential areas that boosts biodiversity and engages people in nature recovery. Part of this plan involved altering how selected verges and open space areas are managed to encourage wildflowers or naturalisation and better biodiversity. The trial was a huge success and has since been implemented across several other areas within Wivenhoe. The approach has been shared with other parish and town councils too.
Find out more about some of Colchester’s great initiatives here.