Nature Recovery Ranger: Liverpool Hospitals
Uniquely amongst CSH’s first intake of Nature Recovery Rangers, Fiona Megarrell works across multiple hospital sites around Liverpool. Although most of her time is spent at the Royal Aintree University and Broadgreen Hospitals which benefit from extensive green spaces, she also spends time at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, a highly urban location, and at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital.
Our Liverpool ranger is one of the original three pilot postings of Nature Recovery Rangers at NHS sites in England. These postings demonstrated that the role works well in very varied locations due to its flexible nature that can be shaped to suit different situations. Like our other rangers, Fiona has worked on green spaces improvements for the benefit of both wildlife and people, and, like them, she has shaped this role to suit the needs and opportunities presented by her circumstances, in this case a set of different sites with different staff, patient needs and community characters.
Working at scale – Fazakerley Wood
Fazakerley Wood is a natural treasure in the grounds of Aintree Hospital. When Fiona arrived, it was in sore need of intervention, due to a combination of limited woodland management knowledge, the challenging behaviour of a small number of local residents in and limited support for woodland volunteers. The Friends of Bluebell Woods, a community group that has been reinvigorated by the ranger’s presence, 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. Funded by the project, Fiona and a linked Kickstart trainee are becoming forest school practitioners, and a number of local schools and nurseries stand to benefit from this.
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.
Fiona 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 Fiona 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. Fiona’s No Mow May initiative 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 Fiona. 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 Fiona’s most ambitious projects brings 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. Fiona has worked with excluded primary school children and volunteers from Everton in the Community to turn this space into a vibrant wildlife garden. The children attend the site regularly to clear and replant the beds with a variety of flowering plants and herbs. Those who were not keen on gardening have taken on construction tasks, such as bench improvements and building a large bug house using a discarded cable wheel. Other children contributes art and design pieces, including painting a land banana with a wildlife theme. Staff from the surrounding wards have 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.”
Fiona has been 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. Fiona has started weekly sessions in which patients can help to grow vegetables and maintain the fruit trees. There are plans for external groups to lend a hand with the maintenance and share cooking skills using the produce grown.
A new garden has been established at Broadgreen and opened up to the community. Staff and community members come together for weekly gardening sessions with guidance from the range community growing space. Well designed planting ensures that flowers will bloom throughout the year, providing abundant food for for pollinators and cheering colour for winter visitors. Vistors can harvest free fruit from the 11 orchard trees, and the space also has a wildflower meadow, a rockery, and climbing honeysuckle and clematis trellises. Its two bug hotels were created by maintenance staff as part of a competition. Maintenance teams from Aintree, Broadgreen and the Royal Hospital each created bug hotel (or hospital!) from recycled materials, safe for the bugs.
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.
Fiona 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’, her most urban site, Fiona finds opportunities to make green space enhancements. She 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 Fiona 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 Nature Recovery Ranger, Liverpool Hospitals
She 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.
Working across four very different sites in a large city, Fiona has shown that there is no NHS hospital that wouldn’t benefit from its own Nature Recovery Ranger.
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