Sheffield Paramedic Glen Watson Blogs: Transforming the Ambulance Service Garden...

Glen Watson works as a paramedic for the Yorkshire Ambulance Service in Sheffield. He was inspired to create a wildlife garden in an area of disused land belonging to the ambulance station in Sheffield. We were more than happy to help out by sending some of our seed kits and even happier when Glen agreed to write a blog post, updating us on how the garden is getting on, and what gave him the great idea in the first place!  

"Having been inspired by Matt Doogue’s guest blog and his vision of #WildWorkPlaces, I approached my employer to see if it was something we could get involved with. I also set up a Facebook group and asked my colleagues if they were interested in getting involved too. I was amazed with the response. I not only got the go ahead (and news that seed kits had been requested), but over 20 colleagues responded positively to the idea, around 1/3 of the workforce at my station.

Now 1/3 may not sound very impressive to most, but I'm a paramedic, working for Yorkshire Ambulance Service, based in Sheffield. We are extremely busy every shift, day and night. Like all UK Ambulance Services, we are stretched to and beyond our limits by an ever growing demand for our attendance. And here I was, asking my colleagues to give up their precious days off as well as donate money, plants and materials to help me turn an unused grassy area into a wildlife haven. To get 1/3 to agree seems pretty amazing to me. Soon after, the realisation of the enormity of the project hit me. Staring at Google maps, looking at the area of grass I was planning to transform, I didn't know where to start. Although I enjoy gardening and I love wildlife, I have never done anything like this. So I wrote a list, and in my mind I put every item from the list into a space on the map. A large central wildflower bed, encircling a seating area, a bug hotel in a sunny spot, nest boxes in the existing trees, a hedgehog house, shade loving native plants under the trees, a native hedgerow around the perimeter and a bird table in an easy to get to spot. I fashioned an extremely basic plan for my colleagues and managers to see and set about marking out the areas.

Volunteers and their families help clear rubbish ready for the transformation to begin

Then came the day of reckoning, the first day I wanted help on site. It was bitterly cold, yet they came, and they brought their families. We did a litter pick and cleared 30 black sacks of rubbish from the area. We had made a start.

Over the following weeks, we continued the work. We lifted turf, over 100m2 of it, all by hand. The turf was either reused or composted. We found the ground was muddy underfoot due to the wet winter, in some places it was a quagmire. We hoped it would dry out, but the weather wasn't helping. A local builder donated some pallets, bricks and paving slabs, so we built a hedgehog house and then a bug hotel, although the planned inhabitants of the later weren’t as well received as those of the former. A member of staff donated 3 nest boxes, built by her children at an RSPB event last year, which were fixed to trees around the site. Another colleague donated some willow wands, so we built a living arch, using old ambulance tyres as a raised bed. Further tyres became the support for a bird table, with the top made from a pallet. We planted 300 native hedging plants, kindly donated by a local nursery, New Leaf Plant Centre. We bought and planted a further 400 English bluebells, native snowdrops, native daffodils and wild garlic. We also planted native ferns and hollies.

The bug hotel, made from recycled palets, twigs and bricks

We made a start on the seating, giving it sense of permanence by building out of gabions, but filling them with recycled masonry and stones. This little area is going to be our spot, somewhere we can take our meal breaks or retreat to for a mental reset should we need 5 minutes after a distressing incident. Somewhere that the sights, sounds and smells of nature can surround us and allow us our private thoughts, conversations and occasional tears.

The plans grew, we added an area for non-native planting, having had a large donation of seeds marked bee friendly flowers. We sited it where it can be enjoyed by the public waiting at the bus stop outside the station. Some of the residents of the estate surrounding our station noticed what we were doing. They came over to talk to us, to ask us about our plans, to complement our work and even give donations to help us buy more plants.

And still the ground in part of the wild flower bed stayed wet. Very wet. We hired a rotavator and turned over the soil, but as soon as we tried to do the wettest part, the machine sank. It was time for a rethink. I decided to amend the plans and added a bog garden, an unexpected but highly beneficial new habitat.

So that is where we are at as of now.  The beds are ready for seeding, bog plants have been ordered, the seating area is still under construction. We have noticed wildlife around us. Several species of birds have found the feeders and bird table, blue tits have explored the boxes, and even a pond skater was seen on the surface of standing water in the bog. My colleagues still turn up to help, the area is now talked about as ‘our garden’ and there is genuine anticipation of us using the space we have created, and sharing it with the wildlife around us too. Even the bugs." 

One of the newly cleared beds, ready for planting and sowing

Good luck with the rest of your project Glen! Keep a look out for more updates (and hopefully some more pictures of the flowers in bloom) from the Yorkshire Ambulance Service as they continue to transform their work place into a wild haven! 

To find out more about how people are making the most of their seed packets and seed kits, check updates on our Twitter and Facebook pages. 

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