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£1.3m environmental project given green light

A £1.3 MILLION project that promises to boost the well-being of Welsh people, plants and pollinators has been given the green light.

‘Biophilic Wales’ is being led by the National Botanic Garden of Wales and funded by Welsh Government’s Enabling Natural Resources and Well-being Grant.

The main delivery partners in the project are Swansea Bay University Health Board, Natural Resources Wales and Swansea University.

The overall aim of Biophilic Wales is 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 will result in: the ‘greening’ of vital, outdoor spaces, in places where people can benefit from them the most; the protection and improvement of our most beautiful grassland landscapes; and the celebration of Wales’ natural heritage by protecting some of our most endangered plants.

Top of the project’s hit-list are sites surrounding hospitals, health-centres and mental health facilities, run by Swansea Bay University Health Board – one of the key partners in the project.

The Botanic Garden’s Head of Science and Biophilic Wales lead, Dr Natasha de Vere, said: “We will increase access, biodiversity value and create vital wildlife habitats. We will create inspirational green spaces for people to connect with and benefit from the natural environment. The work we do will be used to develop models that can be applied throughout Wales.”

As Chair of Swansea University Health Board, Professor Andrew Davies has been one of the key figures behind the project.

Professor Davies, who has recently retired from the role, said: “I am delighted with this news, which has grown out of the unique partnership created between Swansea Bay University Health Board and the National Botanic Garden Wales.

“It will bring huge benefits to the well-being of patients and staff, as well as the wider communities, through an increased engagement with the natural world.

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“As the first health board in Wales to be awarded Green Flag status, Swansea Bay is very committed to working with nature and developing green infrastructure on its land and many sites, including its hospitals.

“It is well known that engaging with the natural environment helps improve people’s well-being, their quality of life and also helps recovery after illness.”

The ‘Inspiring Spaces’ element of the project will see a transformation of under-used outdoor areas into spaces that are full of wildlife, where people can enjoy and be restored by the natural world.

An army of community groups and volunteers will be recruited to deliver this and all aspects of the work – and they will continue to champion the cause after the project is finished.

Under the heading of ‘Grasslands For Life’, Dr Andrew Lucas, of Natural Resources Wales, says: “This project will revolutionise how we monitor grasslands, enabling us to manage, restore and create sites that maximise biodiversity and ecosystem resilience. We will use innovative soil DNA barcoding to determine the entire biosphere of grasslands, including plants, animals, fungi and microbes.”

This part of the project will focus on grasslands throughout Wales, ranging from amenity grasslands within the Swansea Bay University Health Board estate, colliery spoil sites, to conservation grasslands in national nature reserves all over Wales.

The final component – ‘Plants For People’ – will be a celebration of Wales’ natural plant heritage.

Dr de Vere said: “We will ensure that our nation’s most threatened plants and key grassland species are protected for the future by collecting seed for the National Seed Bank of Wales. We will develop approaches to ensure that Welsh-provenance seed of grassland species is available for restoration and creation projects in the future.

“This exciting project is core to the delivery of the Botanic Garden’s mission. In particular, it emphasises the social role of the Garden and further increases its contribution to the delivery of the Well-being of Future Generations Act.”

Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, said: “This project will make a major contribution to maintaining and enhancing biodiversity through collaboration between Wales’ public bodies, communities and world-class academics. It will also benefit the physical and mental well-being of our communities through increasing access to nature-rich green spaces”.

“This is exactly the kind of collective action needed to tackle the ecological emergency affecting Wales’ most precious species and habitats and shows how the intentions of the Well-being of Future Generations Act are being realised on the ground.”