In 2016 Southmead Hospital in Bristol began working with Avon Wildlife Trust to see how they could improve biodiversity on site to become a become a ‘My Wild Hospital’. As part of their bid to boost their natural surroundings, they created meadows throughout the 7.5-hectare grounds, allowing grasses and wildflowers to thrive for the benefit of pollinators. As these wild patches have grown taller and more colourful each year, they have provided much enjoyment to staff, patients, visitors and the wider community.
Three large areas have been turned over to grassland, with verges and smaller patches around the car parks also allowed to grow wild. In one of the larger areas close to the hospital’s main Brunel building, the meadow is managed into concentric crescents, creating walkways for staff and patients to wander amid the tall oxeye daisies, campions and delicate, scarlet poppies, soaking up the colours of the blooms and butterflies.
A haven for bugs, birds and bees
The creation of the wildflower grassland beside the Monk’s Park entrance was supported by Urban Buzz, a project by Buglife which aimed to increase the habitat available for urban pollinator species. A tall ‘bee palace’ was donated by the project; this is one of five insect hotels located across Southmead’s grounds whose resident creatures are enabling the meadows to flourish. They are also a food source for other wildlife, including birds – some of which nest in the site’s many bird boxes, built by students from South Gloucestershire and Stroud College. A local timber company and a wood recycling organisation donated offcuts for the boxes and one of the larger bug hotels, and several members of staff have requested permission to hang bird feeders close to their wards and offices.
Staff also volunteered to monitor the meadows, to see how many bees were supported by their creation. With the data they collected, it was estimated that the allotment lawn alone was providing enough food to support over 2,000 bees, with the potential to feed more than 3,200 bees across the site. Further pollinator studies have been carried out by a student from the University of the West of England.
Connecting people and nature
The meadows are not just designed for the benefit of wildlife, of course; as a large hospital located in a residential area in the Bristol suburbs, Southmead has made every effort to encourage staff, patients and neighbours to interact with green space. Interpretation panels around the site help with the identification of plants and resident wildlife, and advise on how to support biodiversity at home, whether in a garden, courtyard or on a balcony.
The beautifully designed Southmead Explorer Map has also helped people engage with nature by highlighting all the hospital’s green spaces, including the meadows. The pocket-sized map is available on site and as a downloadable pdf. It clearly displays ‘green exits’: doors that lead from the hospital into the closest patches of green space, making it easier for busy staff to access them even during a short break, to exercise outside, or to arrange outdoor ‘walk and talk’ meetings.
Nature Recovery Ranger
Since April 2021, the NHS Forest has employed a Nature Recovery Ranger who works full time at Southmead to enhance the green spaces and encourage staff to engage with them. Phoebe Webster collaborated with the estates team to observe No Mow May, enabling existing meadows to thrive, as well as identifying four new areas across the site which can be left to flower during spring, increasing the amount of pollen available for bees and butterflies. She explains how she ensured the project’s success:
Phoebe has encouraged interaction with the meadows by leading plant identification sessions for staff, where they can learn about the wildflowers and grasses that surround their workplace. On occasion this has been combined with art sessions. Participants are invited to sit in the meadow and sketch the thistles, bird’s foot trefoil and lady’s bedstraw that they have now learned to identify; an exercise they described as relaxing, and a welcome break during a hectic workday. She also ran butterfly transect sessions during which nine species of butterfly were observed on the site, including gatekeeper, meadow brown, marbled white and common blues.
Joining the dots – on and off site
Crucially, the creation of the meadows has taken place as part of a wider Biodiversity Management Plan, covering the day-to-day management of Southmead’s green spaces as well as North Bristol NHS Trust’s future environmental ambitions. The plan takes both people and nature into account and creates biodiversity corridors which link it with surrounding habitats. The success of the project is also down to building all important links with partner organisations such as Avon Wildlife Trust and Buglife, who have advised on which areas to prioritise and how best to enhance biodiversity, as well as carrying out baseline ecological surveys to ensure the project’s impacts can be measured.