Green is good

In the modern world good green infrastructure comes with a high dividend. The value of focussing on Nature-based Solutions is widely celebrated as they provide a rich array of multiple benefits.

It was Gordon Gekko, a fictional financier, who uttered the famous movie phrase “Greed is Good”.  Fast forward 30 years and he would likely have been a very different movie character. Faced with the twin threats of biodiversity loss and climate change he may even have changed his mantra to “Green is Good”.

In the modern world good green infrastructure comes with a high dividend. The value of focussing on Nature-based Solutions is widely celebrated as they provide a rich array of multiple benefits. Restoring sand dunes delivers strong coastal defences, planting trees along a river course tackles potential flooding concerns, introducing wetlands and meadows addresses key elements of biodiversity loss. And, of course, Nature-based Solutions in enhancing nature also improves people’s health and wellbeing.

Garnock Connections - Tree planting along a river course © Alyson Hunter RSPB
Garnock Connections - Tree planting along a river course © Alyson Hunter RSPB

The Garnock Connections Landscape Partnership project has delivered that multi-functional goal. By linking up with local communities and volunteer groups they have successfully improved swathes of local greenspaces in North Ayrshire. With a mixture of enthusiasm and local knowledge 25 distinct projects have made the transition from drawing board to physical delivery, and by viewing the individual projects as part of a far greater landscape-scale vision the impact has been substantial.

Let’s rewind the clock a little. Garnock is an area synonymous with an industrial past. From steelworks in Kilbirnie, to textiles in Beith, this area was once a manufacturing powerhouse in the Scottish economy. With those industries all but gone efforts have focussed on regeneration and rebuilding the urban environment. This means valuing local greenspace as a resource which is not only of benefit to biodiversity but plays a crucial role in building local community confidence, reducing social isolation, increasing skills, and improving mental and physical wellbeing.

Of course, large scale regeneration takes capital as well as enthusiasm. Funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and ERDF Green Infrastructure Community Engagement Fund were significant advantages in fuelling changes.

Many of the achievements that Garnock Connections can celebrate are remarkable examples of how people can be successfully reconnected to their local landscape.

Garnock Connections - Restoring sand dunes delivers strong coastal defences © Alyson Hunter RSPB
Garnock Connections - Restoring sand dunes delivers strong coastal defences © Alyson Hunter RSPB

One of the most visually striking improvements is the restoration of sand dunes on the popular Stevenston Beach. In tackling coastal erosion by encouraging new dune formation a powerful climate change mitigation action preserves a habitat and a well-loved community asset.

The work on the coast has been complemented by the creation of 5 hectares (That’s more space than five Hampden Parks) of species rich grassland at Kilbirnie and Ardrossan. These wildflower meadows are more than simply a great resource for pollinators. They have allowed local people to develop pollinator and plant identification skills an asset that will support the project over the years to come.

For intervention to be successful in the long-term requires an element of handover to ensure that future custodians can be sourced and trained. At Garnock Connections this is a quest they have acknowledged. Since the project began the project has funded four trainee posts, two as wildlife recording assistants and two as volunteer engagement assistants. In delivering training it has been possible to better support volunteer activity across the landscape, help develop online volunteer resources and publish four school workbook and learning plans.  One value of outdoor learning is that it engages future generations with the natural assets on their doorstep from an early age.

All four trainees gained various transferable skills and experience. What’s more they hosted 16 wildlife recording training events which give local people the opportunity to develop the skills to survey and help protect local wildlife. When events shifted to an online resource during the pandemic and associated lockdowns an unexpected upside was that it allowed for bigger audiences.

A ‘library’ of recording equipment now exists for schools and community groups to borrow as wildlife recording takes hold in North Ayrshire. The fact that over 7,000 wildlife recordings were logged in 2019 is evidence of the impact good training and help with equipment can have.

This work of Garnock Connections could be summarised as ‘by the people, for the people’. Habitat improvement projects have delivered not only Nature-based Solutions to potential problems such as flooding or erosion but greater enjoyment of the rich natural history of the Garnock district.  In recent times the strong connection between engaging with nature and better health has been repeatedly exposed.

Better, more accessible greenspace, is set to support the improved health and wellbeing that comes with connecting with nature in the outdoors. The links between increased exercise space and benefits to mental health are embedded in an app called ‘Places That We Know’ which helps people easily find quality greenspaces or areas of cultural importance near to where they live. Another integral function of Places That We Know is the digital archive where users can upload video footage, links and photographs, old and new, that document tales of the past and sharing of stories linking the past and the present of both cultural and natural heritage of the area, which can be edited into a trail.

No modern project would be complete without that strong digital arm.

The app ‘Places That We Know’ helps people easily find quality greenspaces © Alyson Hunter RSPB
The app ‘Places That We Know’ helps people easily find quality greenspaces © Alyson Hunter RSPB

The group’s Heritage Trails App encapsulates this element neatly. From modest beginnings this app has expanded considerably as locals stepped forward to add 27 new trails, highlighting their own knowledge of regional natural and cultural highlights.

Complementing this is a volunteer hub which makes it easy for potential helpers to source opportunities to get closely involved with local environmental projects. By including a range of citizen science surveys, and links to identification guides hosted by respected conservation bodies, the individual can conduct their own local survey and contribute to wider national survey.

In utilising online tools such as these green infrastructure reaches a wider audience and by concentrating on sites which are within walking distance of local communities (or have suitable local public transport links) connection between the digital opportunity and the physical opportunity is neatly made.

From the wetlands created at Giffenmill flood meadow, to six hectares of community woodland at two main sites at Ardeer and Dalgarven, accessibility and habitat creation have worked hand in hand.

Thanks to the tireless work behind Garnock Connections it has never been easier to actively engage with good green infrastructure. There is a multi-functional portfolio of wonderful sites left as a rich legacy of this work. Who knows, perhaps even Gordon Gekko, were he to swop Wall Street for Ayrshire, would revel in this transformation too, he would however be well-advised to change his catchphrase to “Green is Good”.

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