August 13, 2008

Families Dip into Their Own Wildlife Reserves


LIVING in the city, any contact with nature is priceless. On Tyneside we are lucky to have more green spaces, rivers and woods in urban areas than most of the UK.

And many wildlife havens remain unspoiled because they are hidden away in nooks and crannies in the middle of city neighbourhoods.

One environmental project is now trying to highlight the potential for attracting wildlife species to city gardens.

A River In Your Garden is part of the Living Waterways project, which aims to work with the public to improve urban streams and create new habitats for wildlife, while also cutting flood risk.

The scheme aims to inform homeowners who have streams running through their property about what they can do to make the most of their watercourse, through a free A River In Your Garden pack.

From not fencing off streams to leaving plants around the bank to provide shelter to animals, the pack gives information, advice and recommendations for incorporating the water feature into your garden.

The pack is being piloted in the area around the Gosforth Letch, in Newcastle. This tributary of the Ouseburn runs from the golf course north of the Three Mile Inn on the Great North Road, passing through gardens, then through a culvert under Melton Park.

Experts from Living Waterways, a partnership between Northumberland Wildlife Trust, the Environment Agency and Durham Wildlife Trust, have been knocking on doors to inform householders about the work they are doing, to take pictures of gardens and to hand out questionnaires.

They hope to map out the existing route of the stream and customise advice on what improvements could be made to each particular garden.

A River In Your Garden aims to make suggestions for small changes to open up gardens to water and wildlife, but experts can also recommend large-scale works.

These include removing fences and decking to increase the capacity of the stream and cut the risk of it overflowing, and not cutting back vegetation or putting creeping plants next to the stream to provide shelter and food for animals.

Jessica Grinsted, Northumberland Wildlife Trust's Living Waterways project officer, said: "We'd like to give people advice on things to do, to inspire them to make a small change which would reduce the risk of flooding and improve the area for wildlife.

"Urban streams are a very important corridor for wildlife to pass through and a fantastic resource for people to learn about plants and animals.

"In the questionnaire we have given out, one of the questions asks how people would rate the area for wildlife. Generally the answer is "quite low", so it would be good to improve that.

"It depends how much people want to be involved, but it would be great to put together a group to work to improve the stream.

"There are quite a lot of urban streams in Newcastle and in other parts of Tyneside. We're hoping that by launching this project in one area we will find out about streams in other gardens and hear from people who might want to be involved."

Environment Agency biodiversity technical officer and Living Waterways project manager Rachael McFarlane said: "Urban streams can be an amazing wildlife resource to have on your doorstep. Sadly this opportunity is not often realised due to litter, dumping of waste and high fences blocking these areas off from local communities. This degrades the environment for wildlife, and large items of rubbish frequently cause flooding when they get caught on bridges during a flood.

"The River In Your Garden pack provides information on how people can limit the impact of flooding to their neighbourhood and improve the area for wildlife. Some of these are very simple actions which can make a significant improvement. We are working with communities to make a real difference to their local environment."

The pack also includes leaflets with information on rare species such as water voles and bats, a guide to the wildlife benefits of having a stream in your garden and how to spot species of animals and plants, and the importance of urban streams as habitats and corridors for wildlife.

The Living Waterways project has already done work at the Monkton Burn in South Tyneside, holding clean-ups and pond dipping events to educate children about the environment and the importance of respecting it.

A launch event is being held in Melton Park from 4pm to 7pm on August 29 for people living around the Gosforth Letch to pick up packs and find out more about the pilot. If you have a stream in your garden and would like more information about A River In Your Garden or Living Waterways contact Jessica Grinsted at Northumberland Wildlife Trust on (0191) 284 6 884.

(c) 2008 Evening Chronicle - Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.