Nature Recovery Ranger: Liverpool Hospitals
Our Liverpool Nature Recovery Ranger works across multiple hospital sites around Liverpool; originally supported by the Green Recovery Challenge Fund and now by the Liverpool City Region’s Community and Environment fund, as well as the Liverpool University Hospital Trust’s Charity. Although most of his time is spent at the Royal Aintree University and Broadgreen Hospitals, which benefit from extensive green spaces, Nick also spends time at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, a highly urban location. With such a variety of sites and habitats, Nick and his predecessor Fiona have been able to work on some large-scale projects and reach different groups from within the hospitals and the wider community.
Our Liverpool ranger was one of the original three pilot postings of Nature Recovery Rangers at NHS sites in England.
Fazakerley Wood is a natural treasure in the grounds of Aintree Hospital, but in need of intervention to restore its full potential. The Friends of Bluebell Woods, a community group that has been reinvigorated by the ranger’s presence, have helped plant a variety of tree species donated by the NHS Forest such as hawthorn, hazel, field maple, and goat willow, among others. These will introduce more understory species, replace vandalised or wind-blown trees, serve as natural barriers to guide visitors, and aid the regeneration of ground flora lost to trampling. In addition, the newly planted hazel copse will provide a resource for future forest school and other woodland activities.
In autumn 2021, the ranger and volunteers kicked off new, long-term plans to restore Fazackerly’s depleted stocks of bluebell and wild garlic. This included planting 500 wild garlic bulbs and 500 bluebell bulbs in areas where they have disappeared, and where they will be protected by the newly planted hawthorns. Ongoing maintenance and surveying have been written into the woodland management plan. Volunteers have learned to identify non-native Spanish bluebells, how and when to plant bulbs, the importance of open areas within a woodland to ensure a good mix of species and the use of natural materials to protect areas of interest.
Like many woodlands, Fazakerley has fallen victim to incursion by invasive species such as Himalayan balsam and rhododendron. The volunteers have been pulling up, cutting and burning these species, and this will be an ongoing task for the team.
Our ranger has seeded and planted new flora in flower borders, planting beds and large grassy areas across all of her healthcare sites. Never one to do things by halves, Fiona, with help from hospital staff, has planted 2,500 native daffodil and crocus bulbs in lawns previously lacking flowering plants. These will be attractive to visitors, and provide food sources for invertebrates, mammals and birds.
Existing native wildflower meadows have been restored through a new cutting regime that allows the plants to flower and grow in the summer. They have also benefited from wildflower seeding, and our ranger has created 1,000 square metres of new native wildflower meadow by seeing meadow grasses, yellow rattle, vetch, knapweed, bird’s foot trefoil, cornflower and poppies along with other pollinator-friendly species. This was achieved without the use of herbicides, which demonstrated alternative ways of land management and opened a discussion around chemical use across the hospitals.
Both Broadgreen and Aintree Hospitals have huge amount of green space with lots of wildlife-friendly areas. The majority, however, is lawn, cut every two weeks, which offers little biodiversity value. Our ranger supported the No Mow May initiative, which led to bee orchids, marsh orchid and pyramidal orchids (the first recorded in Liverpool) springing up among many other wonderful plant species. This initiative was extended throughout the spring and summer and paved the way for butterfly surveys, carried out by staff and community members trained by our ranger. The aim is to continue these surveys each year and grow the network of surveyors who will feed this data to the local recording body, Merseyside Biobank.
Courtyards and communities
One of our ranger’s most ambitious projects bought together staff, patients, volunteers and children to revive a courtyard between prehabilitation buildings. Originally developed to provide an attractive space that patients could view from their wards, the courtyard had become forgotten and unloved. The beds were being sprayed with chemicals in order to keep weeds at bay and remove the need for maintenance. Our ranger worked with excluded primary school children and volunteers from Everton in the Community to turn this space into a vibrant wildlife garden. The children attended the site regularly to clear and replant the beds with a variety of flowering plants and herbs. Those who were not keen on gardening took on construction tasks, such as bench improvements and building a large bug house using a discarded cable wheel. Other children contributed art and design pieces, including painting a land banana with a wildlife theme. Staff from the surrounding wards also volunteered in the garden for their own wellbeing, and to improve the space for people and wildlife.
One of the occupational therapists, who supports cancer patients ahead of their treatment and surgery, says patients and staff are already benefitting from this project:
“There are times where we deal with difficult and emotional situations, so the work Fiona and the team have done in transforming our green space has been really beneficial. To be able to use these areas for time of reflection has really helped support our individual and team wellbeing.”
Our ranger is also developing a therapies garden to support patients recovering from major trauma. There are now accessible paths, raised accessible vegetable beds, benches, wildflowers, a fence creating privacy, an extended paving area for seating, plant beds, and a full planting and growing plan. Using the garden as a tool for recovery has become part of the therapies department programme, and this private space offers patients gardening opportunities, an exercise route and a chance to connect with nature.
All of these projects have welcomed many different groups of people, including 18 National Citizen Service youths aged 15-16 who helped move planters, plant beds and dig paths. The youths, some of whom had never taken part in gardening before, learned to work as a team, practical skills, and the value of giving back to the community.
Volunteers from a local grassroots organisation, GoodGym, are also regular visitors to all of the sites. They have helped build raised beds, create wildflower meadows and plant a new woodland on a unkept section of lawn at Broadgreen. This area now hosts over 300 trees of varying species such as rowan, hazel and dogwood, and will have bark chip paths and benches to create a seating area. As the woodland is directly next to the pedestrian entrance to the hospital it has made considerable impact, completely transforming a dull area into a useable space. The volunteers had not planted trees before and were excited to have learnt new skills, which they hope to use to plant trees elsewhere.
Our ranger has also organised events for the general public, including community litter picks where concerned citizens joined forces to tidy areas around the hospitals. These events were supported by the council’s Streetscene team, who lent equipment and disposed of the litter.
Urban nature recovery work
Even at ‘The Royal’, the most urban of the three Liverpool sites, our Nature Recovery Ranger finds opportunities to make green space enhancements. He is working on a trust-wide biodiversity action plan that details some of the changes already being implemented in the development process of the newly built hospital. This includes encouraging plants which support native insects, rather than choosing more exotic species, like palm, trees which offer considerably less value to wildlife. There are also plans to make use of sterile building walls by installing sustainable, green wall-style structures, complete with bug nooks and bird boxes, along with plants that not only look beautiful but serve a purpose, too. The Royal Hospital has two large courtyards, and Nick is working with a member of the psychology team and estates teams to work to ensure that there is private space for patients to have appointments outdoors, in a setting that contributes to their wellbeing.
There’s so much green space at every hospital. A ranger can make sure that unnoticed green spaces are noticed and utilised in the right way.Fiona Megarrell Former Nature Recovery Ranger, Liverpool Hospitals
Our ranger has found ways to help staff see the value in every small, outdoor space. Staff have also benefitted from joining the ranger-led walks to nearby parks and community allotments, as well as taking part in events such as wildflower bomb-making and creating their own bird feeders.
Banner photo: The Conservation Volunteers constructing veg beds from recycled plastic for Incredible Edible, at Liverpool Hospitals. Photo: Fiona Megarrell / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0