Birmingham is famous for innovation and leadership in many fields, including academia, industry, municipal government and the arts. No surprise then to some people when it was announced recently that it has joined a forward thinking global network of 'biophilic' cities which includes Oslo, Wellington, Singapore and San Francisco. Others were surprised, after all biophilic is shorthand for expressing our love for, and need to connect, with nature.
There is still an assumption that nature is something found only in the countryside, that it is surprising to find genuine wildlife in a city. Birmingham's new commitment to treasuring and improving its green spaces, parks and links to the natural world recognises that this is not true. It also reflects the findings of The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country, which has documented an enormous range of wildlife, from bats and badgers to otters and peregrine falcons, as well as many birds and insects, enjoying the woodlands, wetlands and grasslands which permeate the city.
John Box, Chair of the Birmingham and Black Country Local Nature Partnership, said: "Birmingham has a superb network of blue and green infrastructure: parks, canals, nature reserves, rivers, woodlands and open spaces that connect the city centre with the open countryside."
Joining the network builds not only on the achievements of the last 30 years, but also on the aspirations and successes of earlier city fathers who saw the benefits of open spaces for both nature and people. Birmingham's 571 parks are testament to their vision throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The jewel in the crown is Sutton Park, the largest city park in Europe and deserving of its National Nature Reserve status. The international connection also continues a thread running from other networks in which Birmingham participated, such as the European Sustainable Towns and Cities Campaign organised by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives.
More recently the city has produced its Green Vision, a set of ambitious strategies and targets to maintain and improve environmental performance in everything from transport and energy to green infrastructure and nature conservation. Nick Grayson, climate change and sustainability manager at the city council, said Birmingham faced many and varied challenges ranging from a surprising tendency to be hit by flooding - though it has no major river - and inner city neighbourhoods that turn into "urban heat islands" when the temperature soars.
Alison Millward, the Wildlife Trust's Vice Chair, said: "Birmingham is a city that understands how important the natural environment is to the social and economic wellbeing of our citizens."
A note of caution: it is said that 'fine words butter no parsnips'. Enjoying the accolade of joining the biophilic network is one thing, having the political will to devote resources to effective management of the city's green infrastructure is quite another. (Witness the recent battle over the parks budget.) For now I give Birmingham two cheers for its intentions, I will save the third cheer for its achievements.
Find out more at http://biophiliccities.org/ .