News archive

January 2019

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Great tit perched in small tree

Meet the Birds: A Better Place Project

The Better Place project aims to involve local people in developing safer and healthier places for expectant
parents and families with children under four to play and walk, and increase access to outdoor spaces. When
the RSPB Airedale and Bradford local group committee received a request from Better Place to join the
project, to help spread the message that feeding birds in parks is problematic, we welcomed the invitation but
also acknowledged that this was unknown territory for us, and how to go about it?
The idea of accosting well-meaning bread-carrying folk in parks had that taste of a poisoned chalice
about it and we put on our thinking caps. We told the Better Place project officer, Priya McQuaid, that we
wanted to educate about what birds' natural diet is and to give out samples of Wild Bird Mix, which is
nutritious and relatively cheap. We felt it was important to give out positive messages by saying what you can
do.
Advice is that feeding birds starchy human food can make them bloated and lethargic, leaving them
malnourished and susceptible to predation. Another concern is that throwing bread into closed water bodies,
such as canals and lakes, builds up nutrients in the water, enabling algae and bacteria build-up and ultimately
damaging the eco-system of that water body upon which the birds depend. Food littered on the ground
attracts vermin and on top of that, feeding birds in Bradford's parks is punishable with an £75 fine.
The target areas were Bowling and Horton Park and we did our research into what birds were around in
those parks in November and December. For each park, we made an information sheet identifying winter
birds that park visitors are likely to see, with a few words on their natural diets. Better Place brought bird food
samples to give out and set up a treasure hunt around the parks, with bird pictures at child height. On the
December session there was a story teller there too (but that's another story...)
Interacting positively with nature is health-giving and can be inspiring. Better Place targets zones which suffer
from economic hardship and other types of deprivation where people can be hard to reach. In each of the two
parks we visited, we spoke to small numbers of people - say ten or twenty over an hour. It is really hard to
know how much we helped develop how they interact with their local wildlife, but what we do know is that
people generally do want a better relationship with nature and appreciate what they have around them.
The Better Place officers understand that by working with the most deprived communities, they make
important differences. For the RSPB, our final assessment is that time spent talking with people about nature
and listening to their stories is time well spent. In a small way we had made the RSPB visible to those
communities and we enjoyed collaborating with the Better Place workers and could not help but be infected
with their enthusiasm and optimism.