A picture taken at Wednesfield Park, in the West Midlands, with a yellow digger in the background, and a sign attached to a tree trunk that reads rewilding in progress.

Our Cities Wild Islands: Setting up a rewilding project in the United Kingdom

In 2021, Ryan Eddowes and Amber Stanley set up Our Cities Wild Islands, an environmental service aiming to rewild green areas within cities, encouraging nature to thrive. Rewilding activities are conservation efforts aimed at restoring and protecting natural processes and wilderness areas, whilst creating a balance between people and the environment.

While projects may start small, action is always focused on the bigger picture. Their first rewilding project, planting wildflower seeds, took place close to home for them, at Wednesfield Park in Wolverhampton, a city in Central England.

Only 3% of wildflower meadows remain in the United Kingdom and Ryan and Amber are hoping that projects such as theirs, can help change that statistic. Working together with government officials and communities at a local level, Our Cities Wild Islands (OCWI) have big plans for rewilding Britain and preserving the beautiful, natural landscapes.

A picture of Amber and Ryan holding up leaflets advertising Our Cities Wild Islands.

Amber and Ryan with leaflets advertising Our Cities Wild Islands.

What have been your education and career paths up until now? 

 “I (Ryan) have worked with animals for almost 10 years now. I began my work experience in a veterinary practice and went on to complete my Level 3 Animal Management diploma  college and obtain a degree in Zoology with Herpetology from Bangor University in North Wales. After graduation, I was a paid cameraman and social media coordinator in Tenerife, Spain and  since then I’ve been an animal care teacher at Rodbaston College and West Midland Safari Park.

Throughout my life, I have campaigned to help preserve our natural world; this is why I co-founded Our Cities Wild Islands. I want to bring communities together to help raise awareness  of the issues facing our planet and it’s ecosystems so we can then rewild our one Earth and help combat biodiversity loss and help fight climate change.”

“I (Amber) work as a Content Marketing Executive, where I plan to build my career and  create content for an esteemed environmental organisation such as WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) in the future. I studied Film Production at the University of Gloucestershire, where I developed all of my creative skills such as videography, editing and photography, all of which I apply towards evolving Our Cities Wild Islands (OCWI), and how I gained an interest in my career today. Before university I studied Biology at school, which is where my interest in science and the environment began.

Outside of my career, my passion for the environment and animals came from an understanding of the current climate crisis and how I could help that and also tell others about this. With OCWI, I aim to make a difference while helping and encouraging others to do the same.”

How did your dreams for the project transform into a reality?

Due to Ryan’s background in Zoology and passion to work in wildlife filmmaking, he has often brainstormed ideas for wildlife documentaries that  tackle current issues in hopes of conveying a strong conservation message. Along with Amber’s passion for the environment, her past study of biology coupled with her current role as a content marketing executive, the two joined forces to create Our Cities Wild Islands.

“The idea of Our Cities Wild Islands came from driving to and from work in the car and pondering “What wildlife would live on these road islands? If given the chance, these islands could serve as a functioning ecosystem for countless different species.

This then sparked the thought that we could bring more nature into our cities to enhance these spaces, thus helping with the declining insect and plant biodiversity and the climate crisis within the UK. With this, [Amber & I]  contacted the council to begin work within our local area, where we are currently working on our pilot area as a test before we expand as an organisation.”

A photo of the volunteers at Wednesfield park in high visibility jackets and welly boots holding gardening equipment whilst helping with the rewilding project.

Volunteers at Wednesfield park helping with the rewilding project.

Did you face many challenges early on and how did you overcome these?

“When working with councils, we never realised the amount of health and safety rules and regulations that come into play for working on roundabouts.

As a relatively new organisation, wanting  to use volunteers, we realised this wasn’t feasible yet. So, we planned to use other areas such as parks and grass verges (which are easier to access) even though this wasn’t our original plan.

There is also a lot of legislation and legal obligations that come with planting wildflowers and trees which we weren’t aware of, so everything is taking much longer than we wanted. However, it’s all a big learning curve but we can’t wait to make this bigger in years to come!”

How much time do you allocate to the project and how do you juggle that with other commitments?

“Over spring and summer, we both met once or twice a week to discuss commitments, worked on these separately  during the week, and then arranged time off work for planting days, community engagement. etc.

However, at the moment, it’s been quiet whilst waiting to see if our pilot area at Wednesfield Park is successful. We can then see what went well and if anything hasn’t worked, as we can’t keep creating failed areas.

But we are continuing to work on other things as we strive to develop as an organisation in terms of raising awareness about the climate crisis, through writing blogs, sharing content and resources we find helpful, and we are currently working on arranging podcasts/ interviews with different environmentalists.”

How did you find the local response to the project?

“The locals were incredibly supportive; when we needed extra help they were there, and the project was so well received! We have a group of amazing volunteers, schools and science experts on board with us and we know we will have their ongoing support as we expand our project.

The positive responses were actually surprising to us, as we expected to face resistance with people unwilling to get on board with change. Even local passers-by who popped by to check on the area would speak to us in depth about what they thought of the current climate crisis, and it was really enlightening.

However, it just really seemed like a lot of people didn’t know what to do to help and this, alongside our planting, is what we want to work on more!”

What made you choose this Wednesfield Park? 

“We chose Wednesfield Park for our pilot project,  as whilst communicating with Wolverhampton City Council, we decided that by planting in a park, we would be able to involve the public more, deliver educational lessons,  and could organise future events here.

This park is a very popular park in a residential area, with a primary school adjacent and many local businesses nearby, meaning this site is ideal for the community to visit and connect to nature. In terms of the natural environment.

The section of the park we used consists of two patches equating to 800 square metres, with a public path going through the centre. If the wildflowers bloom, then the public will be able to stroll through the wildflower meadow without disturbing the wildlife. Through rewilding of parks, roundabouts, and grass verges, we will help establish a highway for nature.”

How will you measure the success of the project? 

“The success of the project will rely on the growth of the wildflower seeds. We spread 28 species of wildflowers and 5 species of grasses.  This mix of species is important to establish an ecologically rich habit for pollinating insects.

Once the wildflowers begin to rise from ground level, we will identify the species of wildflowers, but we won’t know the real success of this until late  spring. If this is not successful then we may need to discuss this with the council on the next steps. If it is successful, we should see a mini bloom in summer, with a full bloom in 2023.”

What are your long-term goals and aspirations? 

“Our main goals are to continue to build this project up from the ground. Once we know for sure that the pilot has worked, we will look into how to structure the project, but it will be based around the not-for-profit structure, as this will allow us to support the community and the environment.

We personally would love for this project to be a brand that can be trusted and have a status like the Wildlife Trust (https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/); this is very ambitious, but our main aim is to ensure more wildlife have space to thrive and to help tackle climate change. Even if this stays a local venture, it will make us very proud indeed.”

What is your opinion on the mindset that ‘one person can’t create change’ – (or two in this case) 

Ryan: “I fully understand the value of simple change. For example, buying reusable bags, not using plastic straws, or instead of commemorating the passing of a loved one by releasing balloons, a nice idea is to plant a tree, and create a lasting legacy. This can dramatically reduce human impact on wildlife and ecosystems.

Another simple change is reducing the amount of meat products you eat; consider trying plant-based alternatives and supporting sustainable food brands.

One of my biggest influential moments took place during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.  I went over my local park to pick litter that was consuming the local wildlife, I gathered over 80 bags of rubbish; this then made it on ITV news on the television. Consequently, loads of people in areas across the West Midlands began collecting litter during their daily walk. I noticed that my local park has continued to stay litter free.”

Amber: “One person can make so much change. That one person could go on to tell another person who could tell another person and even though they may not see change straight away; it’s planted a seed.

When bigger personalities such as celebrities make and advertise changes they’ve made, people are more likely to be influenced and follow. But everyone has the power to make a difference.

I have influenced over 5 people to become vegetarian and think about their plastic and waste use. I have also had others tell me that when they make a more environmentally conscious choice, they do it because they know I’ll be impressed. Again, that seed has been planted and that awareness is there.”

A picture of school students and a member of the Wolverhampton City council holding out wildflower seeds for planting at the park.

Students and a member of the Wolverhampton City council holding wildflower seeds for planting at the park.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to embark on a similar project?

Ryan: “Firstly, my advice to anyone starting out as a zoologist or conservationist is to do your research, think about what area of conservation you want to go into, try not to specialise too much if you are unsure of what you want to do, only invest your time if you’re 100% sure this is your path.

Secondly, prepare for setbacks. Even though wildlife conservation may be your passion, it’s an incredibly hard industry to get into and stay in. Throughout my career, I’ve had to fall back on hospitality jobs to either upskill or earn an extra wage whilst gaining experience working with animals. But all the hard work is absolutely worth it.

Lastly, if you want to make a difference on an issue that affects the planet or your local area, then plan and execute your campaign. But remember, if the project or campaign fails, please don’t take this to heart, take a step back to look at what happened and learn from it. Life is all about trial and error, but know through simple acts you have made, you will have made an impact on at least one person and one thing. Just keep going and the very best of luck”.

Amber: “Just do it! You can make so much change, even if it’s a little bit. Just reach out to your locals as a start and do some research on who else could help or give you advice on your project”.

Stories like Amber’s and Ryan’s show that anyone has the power to achieve something great if they are willing to work hard to turn their dreams and ideas into a reality. It can be easy for an individual to look at the achievements of others and feel intimidated, not believing that they themselves could accomplish something like that. But if that is what you believe, you are only limiting your own potential. Be the change you want to see.

For more information, please head over to the brand-new Our Cities Wild Islands website. Here you can find their detailed mission plan and proposed actions for the future, information about how you can help and contribute to their cause, and future blog posts relating their rewilding projects.

Ryan was also interviewed recently for a blog post about navigating a career in conservation when suffering from a disability. In this post you can find out more about his career journey and future goals and how he has refused to let his disability define him.

 

Author Profile | Charlotte Munroe

Charlotte is an aspiring zoologist currently in her final year of university. Post degree, she is hoping to become a zookeeper. Having always been passionate about animals and the natural world, she hopes to use this platform to provide advice and use the experience of others to help people like herself working toward a career in conservation. 

 

 

Interviews

Leave a Reply