Have you noticed that more and more of our green spaces and nature reserves are peppered with wooden and metal plants, animals and birds?
Entrances are surrounded by galvanized insects, old trees become ecological totem poles, benches are flat-backed badgers and foxes, wooden birds perch and cling where it is hoped that their real life counterparts still do the same.
Much of this artwork is excellent, warmly welcomed, and draws people into the areas concerned. Designs often arise from community involvement, helping to engage and connect people with the natural world.
A new and very good example is an imaginative collection of carvings which have recently appeared in Park Farm Wood Local Nature Reserve, at the main entrance to the Sandwell Valley in West Bromwich.
I have to declare an interest here. For many years I have been involved in promoting such activities, including acquiring, managing and helping to award money to commission artists and pay installation costs.
And here's the rub: why is money so hard to come by to directly address loss of habitats and species, but apparently available to give us representations of wildlife which may or may not still be living in the places concerned?
Are these artworks just another version of the pseudo nature enjoyed by so many on their tablets and smart phones?
Some in the world of nature conservation are beginning to ask these questions.
The State of Nature Report, about which I wrote earlier this year, demonstrated the scale of continuing losses of once familiar species. In Birmingham and the Black Country we have the only urban Nature Improvement Area in Britain, but the government money involved (£600k) is a sticking plaster covering the gaping hole left by years of local and national funding cuts, amounting to millions of pounds, for nature conservation.
(In 2010 national environmental expenditure was cut by 30%, whilst the average over all government spending was 19%. This meant the Environment Agency losing £173M and Natural England losing £41M. To this can be added local authority reductions as a result of other cuts and funding reforms.
Not all of this money would have been for nature conservation, but much of it, such as flood defences, could have contributed, even if indirectly.)
I do not know where the money for the Park Farm artwork has come from. The general argument will be that different budgets are involved, arts funding cannot be used to pay for reserves' management.
This is partly true, but at some points in the process of managing public, including Lottery, money somebody decides on the split between different interests. It may be time to exert some influence for nature at those points.