By Oli Dickson Jefford
Veronika Brannovic, 48, has been passionate about nature since childhood and has spent over 20 years working for wildlife charities or projects.
Brannovic started working for Torfaen County Borough Council in March 2020 - only a week before the first covid lockdown - and made significant impact in the following few months and beyond. She now spearheads Local Places for Nature, spurring wild growth in rural areas.
Brannovic has been recognised for her work as part of a campaign championing the individuals and projects who work tirelessly to save the environment, with the help of National Lottery funding and players, who raise £30 million for good causes every week.
To celebrate her incredible achievements, artist Yoniest Chun, known for his cartoon-inspired work, has created a digital piece of art that immortalises her story.
Brannovic said: “It’s amazing. Personally, I get a little bit embarrassed about attention, but it’s a team effort - I haven’t just done this by myself. My colleagues and volunteers that have been involved, they helped make it happen.
“We’ve made a massive change. We’re now working across 150 sites across Torfaen which is quite an achievement. It’s an achievement for the whole team that are working on it.
“I love nature and always have, even as a child. I grew up quite rurally and thought it was my playground really. I played out quite a lot and just loved catching grasshoppers and watching otters, things like that.
“After that we moved to a post-industrial area, which you think might be different, but I loved exploring those environments. That big connection to nature and the natural environment, I wanted to do something that helped that while tackling the climate emergency.
“Working in conversation is hugely important to me, even just making a difference locally.”
The project stemmed from the halt of local services during the first lockdown, which included no grass-cutting services in the area for almost three months.
That period allowed nature to thrive in a rural area where it hadn’t previously, an opportunity Brannovic knew could not be ignored.
We’re proud to celebrate the work of amazing individuals through our funded projects by unveiling portraits this week.
Meet our four heritage heroes tackling #ClimateChange and championing natural heritage across the UK 👇 #ThanksToYou #SavingNaturalHeritage #COP27 (1/5) pic.twitter.com/rHUPH3x6EX
— National Lottery Heritage Fund (@HeritageFundUK) November 9, 2022
She added: “For about two and a half months, none of the grass surfaces were cut and in that time lots of wildflowers started to grow up. People were seeing a lot more insects as well, butterflies and bees. Lots of people started to appreciate a lot more nature right on their doorstop.
“The local authority announced that they would start the grass cutting again and there was a thought to not do that. All that nature had developed and to cut it down at the time would have been detrimental. We saw an opportunity to try and change what was happening.
“We jumped on that opportunity for change really and then we worked with different teams to review what we were doing and find the areas to change the grass cutting.
“In selected areas it’s not being cut between April and September, and we’re letting it grow to see what kind of wildflowers flower really.
“There’s been a lot of support in the local community for that. A lot of people see the benefits to it, we get quite a few positive comments that people appreciate having areas of wildflowers near them.”
Three additional digital portraits have been created by artist Yoniest Chun, depicting the stories of other individuals and projects who have achieved incredible things to help support the environment as part of The National Lottery’s People’s Portraits series. Also honoured with a portrait is Milly Revill Hayward from the Forsinard Flows in North Scotland, Simon Myers from charity Gasworks Dock Partnership in London and David Bolton from Fermanagh Beekeepers Association in Northern Ireland.