Planning an urban botany project…
As I described in my previous blog I’ve had the idea to attempt to produce a complete flora of the walls, gutters and random green places of Gorse Hill. That blog was good fun to write. It’s great having ideas isn’t it? Like planning to get fit in the new year then merrily scoffing all the cheese in the world throughout December. Saying you’re going to do a thing is easy but somehow when it comes to putting on your running shoes in January that motivated feeling is suddenly nowhere to be seen. That’s partly why I wrote a blog about it. It’s quite easy to conveniently forget to do something if it hasn’t made it beyond your internal monolog. But if you tell the internet you’re going to do something, well, then you have to, right? I’m pretty sure that’s the rule.
My first act was to defer serious project planning for a while by spending some time dividing Gorse Hill up into zones and producing some basic maps to use in the planning of surveys and on the surveys themselves.
This was useful, giving me a better idea of the scale, geography and composition of the area. Gorse Hill is approximately composed of:
- 74 Roads
- 1 canal tow path
- 3 parks
- 1 allotment
- 2 stretches of railway embankment
- 2 major sports venues
- 1 freight terminal
- 1 metro station
- 1 trading estate
- 5 stand-alone urban features with grounds (Police station, College, Town hall etc)
This wasn’t horrifying. Ambitious but not implausible was my objective and these numbers felt about right for that.
Next I had a look online to see if there were any similar projects already happening elsewhere that I could use as a model for my own. I found a couple of bloggers in the US talking about urban botany but in a fairly general way, small case studies of individual species, that kind of thing. The closest thing I could find to my idea in Britain was the Urban Flora of Scotland project run by the Botanical Society of Scotland. That is a great project which aims to encourage the recording of neglected urban flora by collating urban records across Scotland in towns with a population of over 1000. So there is other urban botany stuff happening out there but not in the form of a comprehensive study of a particular urban area like mine. Please correct me if I’m mistaken. If there are similar projects already I would love to know about them.
I took a break from the maps and research and wandered down to the shop to buy a Pot Noodle. On my way I noticed tiny green shoot after tiny green shoot and began to get a little intimidated. These were going to be tough to ID and realistically I would have to ID them without pulling them up. It’d be no good producing a flora for an area which represented what was there before I’d removed it all. Urban flora is often made up of isolated individuals so attempting to leave the specimens as I’d found them was going to have to be a consideration. It also occurred to be that I was going to have to get over the fact that I might look a little weird. There are definitely going to be people walking past me, looking down and wondering what’s wrong with me as I squint at something on the pavement with a book in my hand. I had that bitten off more than I could chew feeling.
I decided to take a step back and have a think about why I was doing a project. Without another, existing project to use as a model I was free to figure out what my motivations were and build my project around them. This came pretty easy. I want to use the project:
- as an antidote to procrastination;
- to give myself regular practice IDing with a key;
- to get to grips with vegetative ID;
- to engage with my community;
- as a creative way to improve existing skills and gain new ones.
So, with these in mind, as well as some comments and suggestions from others, the basics of the project are as follows…
- Survey all accessible places in Gorse Hill 4 times, once in each season.
- Record higher, naturally occurring plants outside of peoples garden boundaries.
- Record plants inside people’s gardens when easily viewed and identified from the street, and obviously wild.
- When not in flower, attempt vegetative ID.
- Produce and update an interactive map showing the location of species identified on surveys.
- When all roads/features/areas have been surveyed 4 times, produce floral key for Gorse Hill.
- Communicate survey/project info with community via social media.
- Submit records to Greater Manchester Ecology Unit.
I’ve decided not to think too hard about a time scale. This is one of those ‘life’s a journey not a destination’ situations where the process is more important than the finished product. But with all those roads, parks, tow paths etc, there are over 300 bits to survey before it’s finished.
I’m considering Sunday 27th March to be the official start date. Clocks go forward so the evenings will be lighter. That gives me a couple of months to prepare. Next job is to head out into the garden with The Vegetative Key and have a practice…
Thanks for reading. Do you have any thoughts, comments, observations about the project? All input welcome.