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New project aims to get urban communities involved in nature

Children bedding in a newly planted apple trees. Credit: Rob Carmier (rspb-images.com)

Newport’s Maindee area, Pwllheli in Gwynedd, and Neyland in Pembrokeshire are part of a new UK-wide initiative announced today, seeking to help local, mostly urban, communities stand up for nature in their neighbourhoods, tackling the global climate and nature crises at a local level.

Three-quarters of people in the UK are worried about the state of nature, yet we are in the bottom 10% of countries globally for protecting it. In March 2023, the People’s Plan for Nature set out recommendations to reverse the UK’s shocking declines in nature, including calls for greater investment in ways to help communities take action to protect and renew nature at a neighbourhood level. The Nature Neighbourhoods project is a direct response to those calls.

As part of the Nature Neighbourhoods project, 18 community organisations [4] will receive support from three of the UK’s largest nature charities – the National Trust, the RSPB and WWF. The organisations have come together as part of Save Our Wild Isles, an ongoing partnership to take action for nature’s recovery in the UK, and along with leading convenience retailer Co-op will support communities to create people-powered plans for nature in their local area.

Last month’s State of nature report revealed that one in six species in Wales assessed is at risk of extinction – making Wales one of the most nature depleted countries in the World. The report is a devastating reminder that the clock is ticking for Welsh nature. It is vital that communities in Wales stand up for nature in their neighbourhoods so three Welsh community organisations have received funding. Maindee Unlimited was set up in 2014 to transform Maindee, Newport into a sustainable community, with a sub group Greening Maindee established five  years ago to improve and create green spaces for people and wildlife, from pocket parks to community orchards. Pembrokeshire-based PLANED will bring their community-led approach to Neyland for this project, furthering their aims to support communities to build a sustainable future. Ffrindiau Pwllheli is a group that has grown out of the GwyrddNi community climate action assemblies, with a mission to protect and care for the natural resources and spaces in Pwllheli, Gwynedd. They are dedicated to improving and developing the town for future generations.

Each Nature Neighbourhood plan will be created by bringing local communities and decision makers together to ensure each plan centres on the community’s priorities for tackling the nature and climate crises.  There will be a particular focus on working with urban communities, as while most people live in town and cities,there are often substantial barriers to accessing nature in urban environments, along with higher social and economic inequalities.

Iwan Thomas, CEO of PLANED, said:

“PLANED with 35 years of empowering community led development in west Wales, is thrilled to be a part of the Cymdogaethau Natur / Nature Neighbourhoods project in partnership with WWF. Our team is embedded within communities across a range of projects which all impact and support the wider environment, and general well-being, so now able to support and work on this key national project of significance here in west Wales is a great privilege, and one we will innovatively and collaboratively deliver on.”

Rory Crawford, Project Manager for the Nature Neighbourhoods partnership, said:

“Urban nature doesn’t tend to be the focus of wildlife documentaries. But most of us live in urban areas, and they present the biggest opportunity for people to access and take action for nature on a day-to-day basis.

“Efforts to improve access and tackle the biodiversity and climate crises have not tended to focus on neighbourhoods experiencing high levels of deprivation, but the local community organisations involved in this project are at the forefront of addressing this, through community gardens, improving parks, connecting young people to nature, community inclusion, creating new green spaces and supporting safe, active travel.”

The national charities will work closely with local organisations such as community centres, social enterprises, and volunteer food growing collectives. These community organisations will be supported to bring together local residents, businesses and decision makers, and understand what they want and need in order to create a long-term plan for nature in their neighbourhoods.

Nature Neighbourhoods will also be given access to Co-op’s unique network of Member Pioneers, who bring people together to inspire and empower them to change the game. Member Pioneers work to tackle the big issues Co-op members and their communities care about, to connect and co-operate to create happy, healthy communities for everyone.

Nature Neighbourhoods has been funded by a £750,000 grant from The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest community funder in the UK, and £300,000 from Co-op. Thanks to National Lottery players, Co-op’s strong reach – with a store in every postal area – and on-the-ground support from Co-op members and its Member Pioneers, the project will help 18 local partners mobilise their communities and lead positive change for nature and people through training, financial aid and collaborating with local authorities.

Representing the Save Our Wild Isles partnership, Alice Hardiman, Director of Campaigns and Mobilisation at the RSPB, Jack Lundie, Director of Campaigns and Engagement at WWF, and Mark Funnell, Communications and Campaigns Director at the National Trust said:

“The People’s Plan for Nature gives charities like ours a clear mandate. Citizens representing the whole of the UK, including many in Wales told us they want more action in their communities to protect and restore nature, and we know that nature can offer hope during difficult times. Through Nature Neighbourhoods, we’re going to boost support for this kind of local action in Wales. The community organisations and leaders we’re partnering with are uniquely placed to bring local voices together. They’ll use this platform to make decisions on how to address the nature and climate crisis at a local level, developing people-powered plans for change. We’re very grateful to The National Lottery Community Fund and to Co-op for supporting this shared mission, and we are so excited to be working with a brilliant range of organisations to make a difference for nature in communities acrossWales .”

Guy Stuart, Director of Technical, Agriculture and Sustainability at Co-op said:

Our members tell us how concerned they are around the effects of the climate crisis on people and the planet. Nature restoration and the halting of biodiversity-loss forms a central part on our approach to climate action, so our partnership with Nature Neighbourhoods is a landmark moment.”

“With a presence in every postal area in the country, we’re perfectly positioned to support directly into communities, through Co-op members and colleagues and our Member Pioneers. Through the power of co-operation, we can drive lasting change and help vulnerable communities restore nature, making them a better place to work, play, live and learn.”

Mel Eaglesfield, Deputy Director at The National Lottery Community Fund, said: “We’re delighted to fund the Nature Neighbourhoods project, which will support communities across the UK by working with trusted and knowledgeable voluntary and community partners to help improve people’s access to nature.

“Thanks to National Lottery players, this innovative partnership is putting communities at the forefront of environmental action and empowering people to deliver meaningful, local change that matters to them.”