A day in the life of Ecopark

EcoparkA day in the life of Ecopark

Our volunteers at EcoPark wanted to give you a flavour of what goes on there and all the activity this incredible environment centre in Small Heath hosts.

Guy arrives early to prepare for a visit by a school. A class of 6 year olds are coming for a bug hunt. There is always great excitement among them, and some nervous giggles. What sort of mini-monsters will they find? The children burrow into the soil of the vegetable beds and look under logs and stones. Worms, beetles, woodlice and the occasional hibernating frog and newt turn up. Someone finds a group of ladybirds clustered together. There’s nothing like the look of wonder on their faces. The children are experiencing a different world! A bit later the willow dragon will be trimmed by the volunteers. A favourite with children, they love to chase each other through the tunnel.

Tom and the two Wild Career trainees, Doug and Gabe, turn up in the van. The team do a lot of work improving school grounds and Wildlife Trust managed sites in Birmingham and the Black Country. They begin to prepare locally sourced sustainably managed sweet chestnut logs for a fence to be built around another school’s wildlife pond. The children at this second school have enjoyed pond dipping so much at Ecopark they have dug their own pond and now need a fence to keep it, and the children, safe. A bit later the van leaves stocked with logs and cut sections ready for construction. With the Wildlife Trust livery it is good to see the van out and about our patch, a visible reminder of the work of staff and volunteers.

It is Tuesday and volunteers arrive with Paul to carry out woodland plant propagation, manage the Ecopark habitats and construct benches in the polytunnel to hold young plants over the winter and early spring months. Today there are primrose seedlings to be pricked out into plastic cells to grow on. We also have hundreds of good sized primroses, stitchwort, ground ivy, wood speedwell, woodland grasses and more in pots ready to be taken and planted in parks, woodlands and community areas around Birmingham and the Black Country over the next few months. This is also done by volunteers from local Friends Groups. It is great that we work together this way. This is the fourth year such planting is happening and when we return to sites it is good to see how well previous plantings have established. Having renovated a sturdy wooden workbench in the polytunnel there is space for small construction projects such as wood and chicken wire covers for the cold frames. Essential if we want to keep the squirrels out!

An old hedgehog house which has fallen apart has been put back together and is being partially buried under a pile of twigs and shrub and tree prunings. Dried grass and leaves have been pushed inside in the hope that a new tenant moves in. With allotments and gardens next to Ecopark it is in an ideal location for foraging hedgehogs.

Lunchtime and volunteers head to the cabin for our sandwiches and some warming tea and coffee. There’s always plenty to talk about on our break! On the way to the cabin we catch a glimpse of red and green in the big oak tree. It is a green woodpecker, not often seen at Ecopark, beautiful.

Coppicing is done in the winter months and allows light into the woodland areas where we have established many of the woodland flowers. Once the school children have left we take bow saws and loppers into the hazel coppice and cut down branches from the older stools. We build dead hedges out of some of the sticks and branches, keeping the best and straightest sticks for use as stakes and supports around the site. There is always more bramble to remove too to keep the paths around the site accessible. A red fox is spotted at the end of the polytunnel, and caught on camera. It is mid-winter and bird song is starting up. Robins, blackbirds and great tits join the chorus. Small flocks of long-tailed tits appear and distract us from our work.

By the end of the day we have achieved so much but there’s always so much more to do next time. Ecopark continues to ‘evolve’. It was only four years ago that we uncovered the cold frames now being used for wild flower propagation. Previously overgrown with bramble, nettles and couch grass they are now an integral part to the Nature Improvement Area work.