2023 – a year celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Natural History Consortium

Our Mission: Engaging everyone with the natural world through collaborative action

2023 has been a tremendous year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our Natural History Consortium. It gave us numerous opportunities to reflect on how the collaboration between partners has strengthened, how the partnership has grown from 8 founding partners to our current 14, and how our joint activities have evolved alongside the environmental communication sector.

Mostly importantly, we continue to reflect on how we can increase our impact, and we welcome your support and challenge in this collective endeavour. More information about each of our programmes is available on our website at www.bnhc.org.uk, or we would be happy to speak to you about areas of interest.

Festival of Nature

Festival of Nature is the only public festival to span the West of England region, and the UK’s largest free celebration of the natural world. Our 20th anniversary Festival of Nature in June 2023 welcomed over 16,000 visitors to 56 different events. A wide range of live and online content inspired audiences to take over 7,000 “actions for nature”.

People for Pollinators

‘People for Pollinators’ was a major project between NHC partners, funded by West of England Combined Authority’s Pollinator Fund. Together, we created 1,130m2 of new or improved habitats in 5 demonstration gardens, ran 45 wildlife workshops, 7 community events, and a wildlife gardening competition. The project also included an online ‘Pesticide Reduction and Wildlife Friendly Gardening’ community campaign.

City Nature Challenge

City Nature Challenge is an annual international wildlife recording event taking place over 4 days. Over 400 cities take part and NHC inspires audiences across the West of England to get involved. In 2023, the challenge took place between 28th April – 1st May. In the West of England region we supported audiences to record 1,296 species across 7,490 observations – making 3rd place on the UK leader board and recording the second highest number of species during a City Nature Challenge for our region.

EuroBioBlitz

In September 2023, we led EuroBioBlitz, which was a 48-hour Europe wide wildlife recording event. Learning resources for the challenge were developed in 8 European languages (English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Polish).

In 2023, 64,397 records of wildlife were made by 8,720 participants, with 32,637 records identified to “research grade” level. Plans are underway for 2024 to include resources in an additional 4 languages: Russian, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Dutch.

Let it Grow

Behind the scenes, we supported the BBC with the delivery of the Let it Grow campaign across BBC Radio 2 and BBC Children’s and Education. With a mission to help UK audiences “turn grey spaces into wild and colourful places”, the campaign got Radio 2 listeners and Blue Peter watchers out growing and planting.

Emergency Tree Fund

NHC was funded to explore new approaches to engagement, volunteering, and formal education to help deliver the West of England Tree and Woodland Strategy (Forest of Avon plan). This included woodland walks with diverse audiences, sessions with Disabled Adults, and a national survey of individuals and organisations on new opportunities for environmental volunteering.

Walking Forest

The “Walking Forest” built on our 2022 tree-themed art project, Overstory, and took us back to the Broadmead area in June 2023. We created a moveable ‘parade’ of street trees through three city centre locations in Bristol, giving away fruit trees and speaking to people about their barriers to planting at home.

Ecological Emergency: ‘Blue Strand’

NHC has supported implementation of Bristol’s Ecological Emergency Strategy since 2021, and in June 2023 ran a programme focused on ‘blue spaces’ across the region. We delivered programme of 20 different events including business networking on boats and paddleboards, talks about beavers and eels, open water swimming, river cleans, and a “fish carnival” for our youngest audience members under 5.

Collective Field Notebook

Funding from Literature Works allowed us to pilot a literature-focused outdoor activity as part of Festival of Nature in June 2023. Inspired by Charles Darwin’s unusual use of field notebooks, a riverside walk with writers and artists allowed us to explore new types of programming for Festival of Nature.

Sparks

We were delighted to support the team at ‘Sparks’ – a new sustainable hub in central Bristol, by providing early ideas and facilitation for the creation of a nature-themed space.

Communicate

Communicate is a flagship event for our partnership: a national conference for environmental communication professionals running since 2004. In 2023 the conference expanded yet again, with hybrid and workshop sessions in London, Manchester and Bristol. These ran alongside a three-day online conference. In total, NHC partners together curated 40 sessions over three days, attracting 1,016 delegates and 100 speakers on the theme of “Together for Nature”.

Making Connections

In January 2023 we brought academic and non-academic staff together from across our partnership to explore collaboration and connections. 24 researchers attending from our HEI institutions, holding facilitated discussions on future academic research, impact case studies, joint funding bids and academic / student placement projects.

RECLAIM Conference

We received investment from the UKRI funded RECLAIM Network (Reclaiming Forgotten Cities – Turning cities from vulnerable spaces to healthy places for people) to host a symposium during Festival of Nature on public engagement with green and blue infrastructure, attracting 21 specialists from 12 organisations.

UK City Nature Challenge Network

In 2023 NHC brought together 22 UK cities taking part in City Nature Challenge through 6 online facilitated meetings to support capacity and learning between organisers. 83% of participants said they found these meetings “very helpful” and 17% “helpful”. 100% of respondents said that they would like these meetings to continue for future events and we are currently planning for 2024 programmes. Together, UK cities recorded a total of 79,293 wildlife observations, a 34% increase from 59,090 in 2022.

Celebrating our 20th anniversary

A special strand of activity during our 20th year ensured we took the opportunity to reflect on our partnership’s work to date and plans for the future. We are currently planning a new publication collating learning from twenty years of the Communicate conference.

Thank you to our consortium partners, volunteers and collaborators for another fantastic year!