A short distance from the M4 motorway in South East Wales, sandwiched between farms on one side and a power station the other, an innovative environmental project is creating new opportunities for visiting and resident wildlife. It also has massive potential to meet the educational and recreational needs of Newport’s diverse communities.
Gwent Levels Wetlands, Wales’ newest and most exciting nature reserve, is managed by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) primarily to conserve wildlife.
“In recent years birds have suffered from habitat destruction, such as the permanent flooding of tidal mudflats in Cardiff Bay. This project aims to put right those losses,” Says Jonathan Neale of CCW.
The Gwent Levels Wetlands reserve was established in 2000, on the Northern bank of the Severn Estuary near the city of Newport, in order to conserve the archaeologically sensitive Levels and the mudflats, an ecologically rich landscape revealed only at low tide.
Careful environmental management is bringing back interesting plants, and providing special habitat for endangered birds, amphibians and mammals. Farmland birds such as lapwing, redshank, water rail, skylark, linnet and reed bunting are becoming a common sight where they were once rare; newly created reed beds are attracting visiting marsh harriers and bitterns. Other creatures set to benefit include hares, water voles and great crested newts.
The Wetlands also fulfil an important social function, providing accessible natural green space near to an urban area. CCW recognises that different people perceive natural places in different ways: ecologists value green spaces for their rich biodiversity; urban dwellers value the contrast between urban settings and wild places where they can escape from life and enjoy the tranquillity to be found in contact with nature.
That is why they are developing the Newport Wetlands and Environmental Education and Visitor Centre in partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Newport City Council. The centre is due to open in 2007 and the partnership is currently seeking funding for £3m capital costs, plus revenue to operate the project.
Tony Pickup, Manager of the Wetlands says, “we want everyone to realise that even if we live in cities, the environment is all around us and we are all a part of it.” That is why the Wetlands Centre are putting a lot of thought into audience development from the outset, and considering how to attract diverse audience from Newport’s multicultural communities - whether to bid for outreach workers, or whether to rely on an on-site communications team to put in place culturally relevant environmental interpretation.
Fawzia Haq of Minority Ethnic Women’s Network (MEWN) Cymru works to involve women from South Wales’ ethnic communities in a range of environmental projects, including visits to local green spaces. She has visited Gwent Wetlands, and liked it a lot, although she states that it would not be suitable for a visit by a women’s group until the facilities are ready in 2007. Meanwhile, Gwent Wetlands Project Officer Sue Rice is consulting with Fawzia and other community leaders to find out their requirements. If their ideas can be incorporated into designs from the start, it will help to make the new Environmental Education and Visitor Centre wholly welcoming to all members of the community.
Fawzia plans to promote the Wetlands reserve to ethnic community groups in Newport once the Visitor Centre is open. She aims to stage activities which will involve the young people from Newport’s Pakistani, Bangladeshi and other ethnic communities. In this way she hopes to attract the older generations to come and enjoy this natural green space for family outings on their own initiative.
Fawzia can take inspiration from BEN’s Green Space Wales worker Ayarun Nessa, who organised a ‘Fruity Beauty’ workshop at the Llanelli Wetlands Centre in September 2005 with Swansea-based Environmental Artist Lis Parsons. The aims of the workshop were to give Bangladeshi women from the Hafod Community Centre ESOL class (English for Speakers of Other Languages) a chance to get out of their usual inner-city environment and enjoy a local green space; to encourage them to practice their English; and to raise awareness of wider sustainable development issues through culturally relevant activities.
What better place to do activities of this kind than a wide river valley (like those in Bangladesh?) teaming with migrating birds (like those our grand parents remember from back home?) within a short bus ride from Wales’ newest city!
Fawzia Haq, MEWN Cymru, Tel.029 2046 4445 / email: Fawzia.Haq@ccw.gov.uk)
‘Providing Accessible Natural Greenspace in towns and Cities: a practical guide to assessing the resource and implementing local standards for provision in Wales.’ Countryside Council for Wales