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The wonderful role of parks in nature conservation

As part of Climate Action Newcastle’s Nature Conservation blog series, Jo Ellis from Friends of Nuns Moor Park shares her personal and professional views on why nature conservation and parks are so important to each other.

Credit: Greening Wingrove (see link at bottom of blog)

I'm Jo Ellis, mother of one, university researcher and town planner. I live near Nuns Moor Park in Fenham and I'm a member of the Friends of Nuns Moor Park.

I started spending a bit of time in the park after my son was born nearly four years ago - all new mums need places to go and people to see so that we don't go completely mad. Later on, it was where we went to meet other children, walk and play. Then, when lockdown hit, the park became absolutely the only place that I went to for anything but purely functional reasons: with playgroups, nurseries, most shops and all indoor venues shut, the park became the place where I could get some fresh air and exercise, and see other people, even if only from afar. It's been incredibly important for me, as I'm sure it has been for many others.

Why is nature conservation important for parks?

Well, of course it's a good thing for wildlife. When the green deserts of modern agriculture barely contain anything that isn't a crop, and even gardens in the city are increasingly tarmacked over, or built upon, our parks are green oases, harbouring thousands of species. At the human level, we can feel happy that we've done the right thing in protecting biodiversity within the city. And, in terms of our own experiences, we can find delight and wonder in seeing nature all around us - the blue tits on the bird feeder, the squirrels in the trees, the shining beetles in the undergrowth.

We can find delight and wonder in seeing nature all around us

But there's more. There's a whole area of study in town planning which characterises parks and other green spaces in the city as "green infrastructure". It's a metaphorical concept, the idea being that green spaces fulfil various functions in a town or city - that they're necessary infrastructure, just like sewers, highways and communications networks. Green spaces help to clean the air, give protection against wind, sun, flood and drought, and provide us with venues for exercise, play, meeting friends and events.

But, wonderfully, the spaces that provide the best all-round "ecosystem services" - as the jargon has it - are the ones which are better for wildlife, too. A football field with no trees or other features doesn't offer much for people who don't play team sports (only about 6% of the population of England do so). But a park with trees, shrubs, ponds or other habitats - which are so important for wildlife - is beautiful and fascinating to visit, provides shade and shelter, cools the air on hot days, and soaks up rainwater and releases it slowly, so that surrounding streets are less likely to flood.

Of course, there are conflicts of interest. A park that was managed purely for wildlife probably wouldn't be a good place for people; we would let the brambles and nettles grow so that you wouldn't be able to walk through it. But the best of our parks are the ones which make everyone happy. They can provide a space for the little kids playing dinosaurs, the older ones hanging around (yes, they're people, too), the football players, the dog walkers and the gentle strollers. And, while we're at it, the woodpeckers, owls, foxes and butterflies, too.

Jo Ellis

Member of Friends of Nuns Moor Park

To explore more of Newcastle’s parks, Urban Green have a great guide to finding one near you!

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