Biophilic Wales

Biophilic Wales was a three-year, £1.3 million project delivered by the Botanic Garden and partners which targeted improving the well-being of people, wildlife and the environment. Independent evaluation of the work undertaken concludes: it “has been incredibly successful in achieving its outputs”. Its name is based on the concept of ‘biophilia’; that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with the natural world and that this is vital to their health and well-being. The biggest challenge was that the project timeline straddled the pandemic so managers and volunteers had to deal with all the restrictions of the numerous Covid lockdowns. That said, they could not have chosen a better time to focus some much energy and attention on the well-being of staff and patients.

There were three interconnected strands to the project:

  • Inspiring Spaces – transforming amenity grasslands and under-utilised outdoor areas, into spaces that are full of wildlife, where people can enjoy and be restored by the natural world.
  • Grasslands for Life – developing resilient grassland ecosystems by revolutionising monitoring and strengthening restoration activities.
  • Plants for People – celebrating Wales’ natural heritage by protecting our most threatened plants, for the people of Wales.

The first of these three work packages was also a first for the NHS in Wales, focusing on green infrastructure objectives at 40 sites within the estate of the Swansea Bay University Health Board. The health board engaged with all three of the project strands but Inspiring Spaces has had the most impact on NHS sites. The main target was sites surrounding hospitals, health-centres, and mental health and residential facilities in the Swansea and Neath Port Talbot area.

Project Manager Kathryn Thomas takes up the story: “Each site was evaluated for feasible interventions. These ranged from small changes such as installing bat and bird boxes, to larger tasks such as creating wildflower meadows. In some cases, the only intervention required would be a change in routine maintenance and, where this is the case, this should result in reduced maintenance for estates teams rather than an increase in labour, so that the work will be sustainable beyond the life of the project. Where there was little or no possibility to improve biodiversity outside the building, nature could be brought inside the building with artwork and well-being films that celebrate Welsh grasslands. These films can also be used to relieve the stress felt by patients.”

To help deliver all of these outputs, the project relied heavily on volunteers’ time. To do this, they created 14 new volunteer groups who supplied the project with 11,000 hours of their time. In addition, according to evaluation by Miller research, the project improved local environment quality, increasing the well-being of the landscape and people by increasing biodiversity.

It safeguarded some of Wales’ most endangered plant species by collecting and propagating seeds. Alongside this Biophilic Wales increased the knowledge and understanding of Wales’ natural habitats by utilising cutting edge DNA barcoding to understand the natural world. Miller’s researchers add: “The project themes remain as relevant as ever and could lead to lasting impacts as individual work packages have been continued, and scientific data collected that will be of use to other projects for years to come.”

Even though the project has completed its allotted three years, the good work is continuing with a project extension through the appointment of a Biodiversity and Green Infrastructure Officer.

Howard Stevens, Technical Services Manager at Swansea Bay University Health Board, said: “The collaboration represents the first time that we as an Estates department have engaged in such approach. Hopefully, we have learned lessons to take forward with the Project extension.” He hailed the work as unique: “The project was also a first for the NHS in Wales (if not the UK) to partner on green infrastructure objectives. A key part of this success was the was the knowledge of the National Botanic Garden of Wales. We have been incredibly fortunate to partner with a body with the knowledge and professional standing as the Botanic Garden.”

He paid special tribute to all of the volunteers involved in the project, without whom, he said, it would never have achieved so much. Biophilic Wales was a partnership project between National Botanic Garden of Wales, Swansea Bay University Health Board (SBUHB), Swansea University and Natural Resources Wales, aiming to increase the well-being of people, biodiversity and the environment throughout Wales using three interconnected work packages: Inspiring Spaces, Grasslands for Life and Plants for People. It was funded by the Enabling Natural Resources and Well-being in Wales grant scheme (ENRaW).

The numbers around what the project achieved are pretty stunning:

  • 3500+ trees planted, including seven orchards with 40 Welsh heritage variety fruit trees and 3,437 hedging plants;
  • Added pollinator planting at more than 20 sites;  28 relaxation areas created, including two green-roofed shelters, six shelters with seating, 12 picnic benches, eight other benches as well as new walking routes created at more than 10 sites, all to improve well-being of patients and staff;
  • more than 31 hectares of grassland optimised for biodiversity, including new ‘no-mow’ policies;
  • 20 bird boxes, four bug hotels and one bat box put up on 19 sites; and
  • more than 3,000 plug plants added to verges.
  • 88,297 meaningful interactions with people on nature.
  • 20 Target 8 threatened plant species seed banked.
  • Three scientific papers published on using DNA metabarcoding and species conservation.