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Escaping the bubble – Nature Netwalk at Netham Park

Matt Postles, Senior Programmes Manager, BNHC

15 October 2017

“Google says we’re going to be 5 minutes late!” Consulting the smartphones as we round the corner into Barton Hill, our small contingent from Bristol Natural History Consortium (BNHC) suddenly realise that we may have underestimated the walk from our office in St Nicholas Market to the ‘starting point’ of our ’Nature Netwalk’. Picking up the pace and hunched against the drizzle we make up a couple of minutes to emerge from the terraces into the open green of Netham Park, joining a cluster of anoraks and walking boots already gathered outside the Pavilion.

The occupants of the anoraks are introducing themselves and it’s refreshing to see some unfamiliar faces among the regular collaborators from Avon Wildlife Trusts, Bristol Parks Forum, Bristol Naturalists Society and Bristol Green Capital. This is the inaugural Nature Netwalk, organised by Bristol Green Capital Partnership as part of Healthy City Week. It sought to bring together environmental organisations, volunteers and community groups in a green space outside of the microcosm of traditional city centre networking venues.

Our team are poised and keen to meet some local community groups to scope out interest in a new city-wide element we are planning for the annual Festival of Nature – known best for our big city centre weekend on the harbourside in June. The Festival brings together  25,000 people each summer in the UK’s largest free celebration of the natural world. For BNHC’s 15th Birthday in April 2018 we are looking at ways to spread that energy out from the city centre into the green spaces and communities on people’s doorsteps – watch this space!

To blow off the cobwebs we embark on a nature walk led by the ever-engaging Matt Collis from Avon Wildlife Trust starting, of course, with – cobwebs! Scouring the breeze block walls of the pavilion for resident funnel web spiders before we are diverted by evidence of a fox hideout under nearby shipping containers. Both things  a great demonstration that wildlife can find a place in the most unlikely urban habitats.

As drizzle turns to rain we move towards the river, retreating into a bank of woodland where members of Friends of Netham Park share some astonishing images showing the transformation of the space from a 1960’s industrial dumping ground to the established secondary woodland we are now sheltering in. The pride of place on display is quite humbling and helps showcase what can be achieved by local communities being proactive in their local environment.

By this point the early nervousness that always accompanies a meeting of new people has dissipated in the cleansing breeze and following some excited chat about tree species, gall wasps, bird nests and feathers, we take advantage of a gap in the rain to head back to the Pavilion for a cup of something hot.

A coffee and a caramel biscuit in hand, it is time for some structured networking. Sometimes these speed dating exercises can be a bit cringeworthy but with the ice broken by the walk everyone seems amenable and I’m keen for the chance to meet unfamiliar faces in the group. It is easy in casual networking to fall into the trap of chatting to the same people you already know so a bit of comfort zone pushing, I find, always helps get the most out of a gathering like this.

I am not disappointed! As well as catching up with representatives of Bristol Parks Forum, who have been amazing partners in past Festival outreach projects, I meet inspiring leaders from Up Our Street and Imayla – organisations doing exciting things with urban communities in the city and now top of my list for conversations in the new year.

Excusing myself 10 minutes early to make the walk to Temple Meads in time for the 5:20 train I leave feeling inspired and a little bit closer to the edge of my city centre bubble.