A blog set up to celebrate all that is good about Walsall's Countryside Services and Green Spaces and to share information and campaign for their continued existence. Let's save what we have for future generations of our town and borough. For more information please email email@example.com
Our Winter Warmer Walk is happening tomorrow (Sunday 25th November - 12.30pm - 3pm). Enjoy a gudied walk of the park with our ranger, James. Booking is needed so please ring 01746 781 192 to secure your place.
Here was the reply from Morgan Bowers, one of the four senior Countryside rangers employed full time by Walsall Council. We believe much of what the Rangers do goes above and beyond the call of duty.
This year .....
Park Lime Pits we have done bee walk and bat walk, two foraging bike rides.
Merrions Wood has had Winter ramble, spring walk, bluebell walk, bumblebee walk and butterfly walk.
Barr Beacon has had bat walk, Halloween ghost walk, bumble bee walk, and FIVE astronomy events.
The Grange has had bee walk and two bioblitz days.
I've also done around half a dozen newt survey and identification days, two other bat walks (Daw End canal), peregrine watch, beetle surveys, insect survey training days, aquatic plant identification training & surveys, reptile surveys, and loads of talks about wildlife, bats, representing Walsall at national conferences.
And I am just 1 of 4 rangers.
All of these events were free and widely publicised.
If anyone is unaware of them and wants to stay in the loop,
This blog is written by Linda Mason and therefore represents her views.
The first Green Space Strategy adopted by Walsall Council has led to the recognition of Walsall as a case study in best practice. It has been seen as a resounding success with Walsall Council and the Green Spaces team receiving regional and national plaudits. This has led to the evolution of an expertise within the department that the council, despite having patted itself on the back because of all the public praise and acknowledgment, now seems to want to allow to go to waste. Is this the fault of Councillors council officers or national government?
Clearly the proposed budget for 2013/14 is heavily influenced by the policies of national government and I will leave my thoughts on the coalition out of this blog but what council officers plan and the decisions that Councillors make based upon those plans are totally relevant to our campaign to save Walsall's Green Spaces and Countryside Services.
It became clear to those of us that attended the protest on Monday evening that the reaction of some of our local Councillors clearly indicated that they were not really aware of the budget proposals effects upon our Green Spaces. If this is the case then how aware are they of proposals in connection with Green Spaces strategy that have been 'hidden' or discarded in between working groups, scrutiny committees, cabinet and full council?
There are two areas for consideration: firstly the merger of Street Pride and Green Spaces and secondly, the current budget proposals of a £400K cut to the budget of what was Green Spaces.
Notes of a meeting between Jamie Morris, Mark Holden, myself and Roger Jones have been posted on the Facebook Group and also by Brownhills Bob here. During this meeting it was stated that in August this year a decision was taken to merge Green Spaces and Street Pride. This flies in the face of recommendations previously made and I'll return to this point later but for now what you need to know is that Street Pride provides ground maintenance such as grass cutting, shrub bed maintenance and provision of floral bedding. Green Spaces, set up in 2006 is responsible for the management and development of public open spaces in Walsall. This includes the Park Ranger Service, Green Space Improvement Service, Countryside Services, Infrastructural Maintenance and the Urban Forestry Unit. Just from those descriptions you can see why the service provided by Green Spaces is specialised and expert.
Looking at the job cuts proposed it seems to me that your job is more at risk if you formerly worked for Green Spaces because even those jobs cuts proposed from Street Pride are more heavily weighted towards former Green Space roles. I'm not trying to set department against department here (there is evidence in the Green Spaces Strategy Working Group that there was poor communication between the two services and that there was also a lack of communication between Street Pride and Friends and User Groups) but as an outsider looking in on the current situation and also in examining documents freely available on the council's website in the form of meeting minutes and reports by various committees, this merger is not a merger but a take over of Green Spaces by Street Pride in order to enable a fiefdom to be maintained at the expense of another department that receives national recognition and accolades. The job cuts being proposed are in the main, cuts in front line services formerly provided by Green Spaces and are not cuts in back room activities. Please do not think that I have a problem with the services provided by Street Pride; I don't. What I am trying to emphasise in this blog is that something, somewhere has gone very wrong and is against everything that is documented.
Paul Sheehan, Chief Executive of Walsall Council says in his remarks contained within Walsall Council's Corporate Plan for 2011/12 to 2014/15: "Whilst change is both inevitable and desirable, what remains constant is the fact that we exist as an organisation only to service you, the residents of Walsall. All that we do should be for your benefit - to support you in living healthy lifestyles, to give increased access to better jobs and to make your neighbourhoods better places to live."
Where was this thought when it was decided that Street Pride and Green Spaces should merge and when deciding that it would be Ranger posts that would be dispensed with to meet budget cuts? Both Park and Countryside Rangers are essential if Paul Sheehan desires us to live a healthier lifestyle and in making our neighbourhoods good places to live. It's good to print fine words in glossy brochures but it seems that Walsall Council fails in ensuring that their officers keep these ideals in mind when doing their day to day work.
Returning to the Corporate Plan, the Vision is: "Walsall will be a great place to live , work, invest, where *there are a wide range of facilities for people to use and enjoy *people consider the impact of what we do now on future generations *growing up is as good as it can be *people feel proud to live."
If we discard our Rangers, how are the four principles above going to be upheld? If we don't have our specialised Rangers to maintain and develop our green spaces what will future generations think of our legacy of wastelands where once there was green and as I've said before, will our children have spaces where there should be memories of trips to the swings and slides, pond dipping, bee hunting, newt spotting and family games of football and cricket?
Another comment in the plan states: "Our Green Spaces will be well maintained and accessible so that people want to use them and value the time they spend there."
Walsall's Green Spaces are the most frequently used cultural and leisure facility so they need the best of staff. It's not enough to just pop anyone in there to provide a 'presence'. They need to be trained in many areas, not just in mowing the grass but
- in creating bonds and ties and maintaining them, with their local communities, tackling anti social behaviour and its perpetrators by actively engaging with disaffected youth,
- in health issues and how Green Spaces can help the community be fitter and healthier in mind and body and in ensuring that schemes such as the popular and beneficial WALK ON scheme continue and develop
- lastly but definitely not least, in developing and maintaining the huge ecological and environmental biodiversity of Walsall, explaining and educating communities and ensuring the legacy and heritage for future generations.
In February this year the Community Services Scrutiny and Performance Panel met, considered and approved the report and recommendations of the Future Greenspaces Strategy In Walsall, working group. It seems that since then there have been holes punched in this well written, well researched and well consulted report. The full report can be downloaded from the Council's web site but let's just take a few bits and pieces from that report and then consider whether or not we and our Councillors are really aware of what a properly researched and consulted report recommends and if those priorities identified should be abandoned in the name of a departmental merger and proposed budget cuts.
The working group recommended that the vision for Greenspaces 2012 to 2017 should be; "Green Space in Walsall should be a proud public asset securing the environmental and ecological future of the borough for the benefit of the health and wellbeing of the whole community."
The case for that vision was set out in six priorities.
Priority 1 - Greenspace in Walsall should be enhanced and improved.
The working group believed that Walsall's Green Spaces were a proud public asset and that they were in a good place at that time due to the previous green spaces strategy. They proposed that Walsall Council should retain management of Greenspace and that a borough wide Country Park should be set up, radiating out from the Arboretum and eventually encompassing all borough wide green space, developing green corridors between parks and reserves and linking them all together.
I think this is the Country park that was reported upon recently by the Express and Star and which mystified many of us but what a brilliant and innovative idea. The problem is though, that if the proposed cuts go ahead, where are the staff and where is the expertise in making such a proposal reality?
Within this priority was also the recommendation that a new approach to grounds maintenance be developed by devising a new holistic and single strategy approach, involving low maintenance such as less grass cutting, more wild flower planting and meadows etc and that this approach be managed by Green Spaces. Yet now we have the merger and in effect the take over of all maintenance by Street Pride and it appears no consideration (see the notes of the meeting last Wednesday) has been given by officers of a revised maintenance structure that would in fact cut costs!
Priority 2 - All Green Space should be safe and free of crime and anti-social behaviour
Many of the posts going to Street Pride from Green Spaces that will remain if budget proposals are implemented will be renamed from Ranger type posts to environmental operatives. Rangers have over the last few years spent a lot of their time engaging with some of the people that are responsible for the majority of anti social behaviour and this approach has been most successful, various reports in the local press in just the last two weeks have given details of such success. The proposals are that some of these people will go and so their expertise and the trust that they have built up will go with them. At the meeting on Wednesday we were told that there would be more of a visible presence in green spaces. My question is will that presence have the expertise and experience to continue with programmes already started and will it also have what is needed to ensure that this priority can be fulfilled?
Priority 3 - Green space should be used to increase the health and well being of residents
There is much to comment upon here but I'll stick to education and the experiences that should be promoted to our local schools pointing out the history, geography, geology, habitats, biodiversity and so on of our local green spaces. Again if our Rangers have gone how can we fulfil this?
Priority 4 - Commercial opportunities should be sought in green spaces
Again, where are these considerations in the proposals and why has income generation been ignored? It is interesting that some of the proposals made by the working group are very similar to finance proposals made on the Facebook Group!
Priority 5 - Greater partnership working for the development of all green space should be pro-actively developed
Amongst others, Friends and User groups are recognised here but it is recommended that they are not viewed as cheap labour in times of austerity. This again appears to have been forgotten with murmurs of getting such groups to take over the locking and unlocking of green spaces with all the insurance and security implications that that entails. User and friends groups need Rangers! Without them there is no leadership and no guidance. An environmental operative would just not have the same expertise.
Priority 6 - Green Space should be used to create rich habitats and biodiversity
At the risk of repeating myself how can this be fulfilled without the appropriate expertise of Rangers?
From my experience at Wednesdays meeting and from my own research it is clear to me that recommendations are being hidden or ignored and that the corporate vision not even being paid lip service with the budget proposals for Green Spaces. Why?
My final point. The budget consultation is a glossy farce. Even now, when the public 'have your say' has finished, finer details to various proposals of cuts are still emerging. These details could not have been taken into account when people were having their say. Even what was available was difficult to access. Walsall Council, if you really want to consult, if you really want people to have their say, then lay it down straight, make it easily accessible instead of being hidden away on your web site.
A successful protest was held this evening by the Save Walsall’s Green Spaces and Countryside Services Facebook Group.
The Group, recently formed to celebrate and protect Walsall’s Green Spaces, which are under threat from a £400K cut in funding by Walsall Council under draft proposals recently published, met outside the Council House in Walsall to lobby, leaflet and talk to councillors prior to a full council meeting that was taking place.
Linda Mason, spokesperson for the group explained that although the subject of cuts were not being debated at the meeting, it was important to keep the subject fresh in councillors minds and to remind them how much Walsall’s Green Spaces and in particular the Countryside and Park Rangers mean to the people of Walsall.
The protesters numbered a dozen or so and were able to engage some councillors in conversation, who in the main appeared broadly supportive. Protesters outlined their particular concerns regarding a proposed cut in Ranger posts. Councillor Arif, representing St Matthews ward said “We are not cutting any Countryside Rangers”.
Cllr Arif’s quote is most welcome to the group who will continue with their campaign which includes an online petition, now signed by the largest number of people in Walsall Council's e-petition history and a web site.
Many a bag of litter is collected each week from our parks and nature reserves. Of course Walsall Council have dedicated teams employed on such tasks, but generally it is the volunteers and friends groups that collect most of the litter from our local nature reserves. This naturally has to be coordinated and it is one of the many tasks undertaken by the Countryside Rangers. If these posts disappear, there will be no-one to organise these important activities ....
A litter pick at a nature reserve normally only takes a Ranger with a few volunteers (maybe just 2 or 3) to meet on site and spend a couple of hours collecting cans, paper, bags and anything else that is not pleasing to the eye or that might be harmful to wildlife. The Ranger of course is key to this as they have access to the refuse bags, hoops and litter picking tools that are needed for this work. The Rangers also arrange for the bags to be collected from site by their estates department or Streetpride.
How do volunteers get to hear about litter picks and other perhaps more enjoyable pursuits at their local reserve. Below is the '2012 Programme of Events for Merrions Wood' And there is so much more than litter picking - Conservation Days, and Walks through different seasons, all led by a Countryside Ranger.
If Walsall Council dispense with the role of Countryside ranger, the above would rapidly disappear and we could be faced with the kind of problems pictured below .....
A quick phone call or tweet to a Ranger at Countryside Services soon resolved this fly tipping ...........
This of course is but a small part of a Ranger's responsibilities. They are very experienced and gifted people, with a passion for nature and the outdoors. They have expertise in the management and conservation of wildlife reserves, from flora to fauna. They educate our children with walks and talks.
More on a later blog but for now .........
SUPPORT OUR RANGERS and OPPOSE THE COUNCIL CUTS TO COUNTRYSIDE SERVICES
The following was written by Facebook Group member Darlaston Duo. He put it together from various comments that had been made on the group for one reason; to print off and to put on notice boards at work. Please feel free to do the same! We're beginning to be heard. Make us even louder!
Save Walsall’s Green Spaces and Countryside Services
I am asking residents of the Walsall Borough to please help and save our green spaces and countryside services after Walsall council have proposed cuts of £400,000,00 from this department.The vast majority of accessible nature has been managed by man for centuries. If we want it to remain accessible and enjoyable – and this is vitally important in a borough like Walsall, which is not exactly the Lake District, the New Forest or the Cotswold’s (which are all managed, not left to go to waste) – we need to maintain the staff levels in parks and countryside which are already minimal, having been continually run down since the 1980s. It’s not that long ago since we lost our permanent on-site park keepers, and dare I mention the loss some years ago of the highly productive parks department facilities in the Arboretum. And what about real efficiency savings which can be made? I can’t think that exporting money outside the borough to pay for contractors, agency workers and the flowers that bloom in plastic buckets on our High Streets makes very good economic sense either. Bring it back in-house if you want to save money. Hell, you could even generate income that way. Sadly, modern governments are all about the short-term headless chicken balance sheet especially when it involves things that only affect us plebs/commoners/serfs – and a knee jerk application of ‘slash and burn’ which allows for neither thought nor careful consideration of legacy. The leader of Birmingham Council, Albert Bore, recently made it clear that the Con-Dem government’s cuts regime will see the end of local government as we know it, and this is just another sad symptom of that thoughtless culture. Ill-considered cuts will surely mean that one day our green spaces will end up as locations exclusively for burnt-out cars, fly-tipped rubbish and drug addicts, not havens for both hard-pressed wildlife and those of us in need of a bit of spiritual freedom in stress-distorted modern life. As well as these cuts the council has also announced a SPEND of £400,000,00 for the Arboretum to make it into a country park so they can attract more visitors. Surely they have got things wrong, therefore I ask residents of Walsall to please, please, please sign an E-Petition that has been set up to try and tackle this issue.
The web address for this is as follows https://walsall.cmis.uk.com/walsall/Petitions/tabid/40/ID/13/Save-Walsall-s-Green-Spaces-and-Countryside-Services.aspx
Please log onto this address and put names of all your family within household even the very youngest as these parks, green spaces and countryside services are the future for your children and their children. Thank you very much for your co-operation, if you have any concerns please contact (Add your name)
This is the leaflet we have produced for handing out on Monday at the Council House (dbl-side A5)
Walsall's Green Spaces and Countryside Services
We are very
concerned at the cuts to the Green Spaces and Countryside Services
identified in your proposed budget for 2013 and beyond. Walsall is
blessed with a variety of green spaces and areas of outstanding
beauty. From heathland to man made quarry ponds, woodland walks to
these reserves do not manage themselves, it takes an incredibly
devoted team of specialists to maintain and promote their use and
protect the future availability as a legacy to our children. Not only
do these provide a welcome reprise for the population of Walsall, the
Rangers also tackle issues of worldwide importance, working with
local landowners to ensure the best use of their land to protect and
monitor biodiversity. It is becoming recognised that the symbiotic
relationship of man and nature has to be nurtured to ensure a healthy
planet and Walsall is very much up there in this department. The
Rangers provide tireless enthusiasm to all aspects of the Countryside
but this enthusiasm isn't just from the heart, it is backed up with
bags full of experience and qualifications. This expertise isn't
something that Walsall can afford to lose, without it amateurs such
as ourselves and the friends groups devoted to protecting the future
use of these areas of outstanding beauty could actually do more
damage than good. Without these experts, we could not understand the
complex relationships than ensure a secure future. We understand how
this could be seen as an easy target for cuts but in reality the
short term financial gains would result in the long term destruction
of many places that make Walsall wonderful. We urge you to carefully
consider the implications of your proposals and how they will affect
the richness of your population's lives.
residents, proud of our town and its green spaces.
We have many
supportive groups including ….
Friends of Park
Lime Pits Friends of Merrions Wood
Friends of Shire
Oak Park Friends of Moorcroft Wood
OUR PETITION TO
now been signed by ........................... 120
the undersigned, petition the council to …......
the 2013 budget proposals for Walsall Green Spaces and Countryside
Services. We are concerned that proposed redundancies will signal the
demise of this precious and well loved department, our community
green spaces and local nature reserves.
Green Space staff including Countryside Rangers are an asset to the
town and borough and are an essential service to the people of
Walsall demonstrated by their hard work and commitment
in caring for and improving our green spaces, promoting environmental
issues of local, national and international importance. They share
their passion, knowledge and expertise to the people of Walsall in
many guises including local residents groups, user groups and friends
Rangers are an
asset that Walsall cannot afford to lose.
We ask that the Council do not make redundancies and instead look
seriously at other routes including maximising income from the
resource. We also ask that the council remember that our green spaces
are our legacy to the town's young people and of generations yet to
come. We are merely guardians of them and as such should not be
neglected or destroyed."
We have a very
strong social media presence that includes Facebook, Twitter and
several local blogs devoted to Walsall's neighbourhoods and nature
reserves. They include …...
Here are Walsall's main local nature reserves managed by the very dedicated team at Countryside Services .....
Step a few yards into any of these reserves and you're as close to nature as you can get in an urban environment. In fact its often hard to believe that thousands of people live close by. They are a real haven for wildlife, especially birds. My nearest and dearest is Park Lime Pits where any day you might come across this handsome fellow staring down at you ........
On the other hand he might be hiding ....
he'll probably see you first ....
Whetted your appetite yet ... there's more to follow .... so keep coming back or better still subscribe and get notified of updates.
The newly formed Facebook Group “Save Walsall’s Green
Spaces and Countryside Services” are organising a static protest.
The protest will be held on Monday 19th
November from 5pm when there will be a full Council Meeting at The Council
House, Lichfield Street, Walsall. The Group are hoping to highlight their cause
by greeting local councillors as they enter The Council House and also by
attending the meeting that begins at 6 pm. All are welcome to join the protest.
There is no requirement to be a member of the Group on order to attend.
Linda Mason a local resident who set up the Group has also
set up an e-petition, which can be found on Walsall Council’s website and urges
local residents who have an interest in saving the Borough’s nature reserves
and parks for the future to sign it online. “It takes just two minutes of your
time and anyone of any age who lives, works or studies in the Borough can
sign.” The petition can be found here: https://walsall.cmis.uk.com/walsall/Petitions.aspx
As part of the campaign to save Walsall's Green Spaces and Countryside Services, I've set up an e-petition on Walsall Council's website. Click HERE. If you do nothing else this weekend please do take a look and sign. It takes less than two minutes and every signature helps demonstrate to our local councillors that we care about our nature reserves, parks and green spaces and do not want to see them fall into decline.
When you've signed please share the fact that you have with your friends, colleagues and even your enemies!
If you need more information then please do get in touch. Email at the top of the page.
My name is Linda and one week ago I set up a Facebook Group called "Save Walsall's Green Spaces and Countryside Services." I did this for two reasons. Firstly as an individual who lives in the Borough of Walsall, I am passionate about the superb service that is offered by the teams employed at Walsall Council to nurture, maintain and develop the many green spaces, parks and nature reserves of the Borough and I am passionate about those places too. Secondly, the budget proposals currently being debated for the coming 2013 financial year could have a detrimental effect upon this jewel in Walsall's crown.
The basics are that a £440K budget cut for the department is being proposed. this could mean the loss of two Countryside Rangers and four Senior Park Rangers. In the long term this could lead to the decay, decline and destruction of places that residents of Walsall hold dear and are justifiably proud of.
The Facebook group is somewhere that people can drop into and discover all the latest news about our campaign and can also post ideas and opinions regarding the potential loss of our precious green spaces. However, I have been made aware that not everyone wants to access Facebook and it does have it's limitations. So this is a blog which I hope will compliment and grow in a different way to the group.
Please feel free to get in touch through the email address firstname.lastname@example.org