Building Green has been speaking to the Council and its contractors following the unfortunate cutting back of the green wall at the bottom of Duke’s Mound, near the Volks Workshop.
The event triggered an outpouring of concern from the public, a wreath-laying, and commitments to establish a management plan for the Local Wildlife Site.
Improvements to the road are to start shortly, so Council contractors will be sensitively pruning back the large fig tree that grows in this section and is currently spreading into the road. The idea is to train it up, not out! Building Green have been assured that the veteran Japanese spindle plants along this section will be encouraged to continue re-growing up the cliff.
Those amazing folk from Portslade Green Gym were at Madeira Drive for the first of this year’s visits to the green wall. They were last due on 5 March 2020, and we all know why that didn’t happen!
Doing their usual terrific work today, to cut back growth, ensuring the maintenance of the wildlife on the site, and protection of the historic Japanese spindle plants.
There were also good signs that the Building Green Babies – young spindle plants we grew from cuttings on site – are growing up.
One of the volunteers was saying how important this work is – not just from a wildlife point of view, but for the mental health of the team. Many of the volunteers are older, and live alone – being outdoors with their friends, doing something physical, is a joy – and something sorely missed during lockdown.
Our thanks to the Council team for cutting back along the path edge this week, to keep the pavement clear for pedestrians.
Next volunteer work day is 18 November. Come and say hello, or lend a hand.
Most striking has been the outpouring of local concern and sadness at how the work was completed, an apology from The Council, and a memorial event yesterday (involving a minute’s silence and a wreath laying) organised by local people and members of Madeira Drive campaign groups.
Meanwhile, Building Green volunteers have replanted a section of the wall on Duke’s Mound, as part of our long term project to restore the wall to its former length.
Building Green awaits the report of what happened exactly, so we can ensure that all parties learn from this for the future.
However we do know that the cutting included a very large fig, several stools of Japanese spindle planted in 1872, and the removal of large specimens of Spanish gorse and Darwin’s barberry. A number of ferns have been exposed and died. This section of wall was used by dunnock, wren and blackbird.
We know from our coppicing trials elsewhere on the green wall, and from recent work in partnership with the Council to protect or translocate older plants, that with the right care and attention it can regrow. There are some signs this is already happening.
However, regular cutting back and trimming would have avoided this situation from developing in the first place. So, as next steps, we will be encouraging the Council to work with us and local people to:
tidy and care for this section of wall now, with feeding, to maximise regrowth
establish a management plan for the whole green wall
set up budget and resources for regular maintenance, to ensure public access and safety along the pavement, optimum conditions for wildlife, and long term health of the green wall
incorporate the full linear extent of the green wall into the ‘MT30’ project, which is looking at the restoration of Madeira Terrace.
A few recent happenings on Madeira Drive Green Wall – our natural backdrop to the eastern seafront.
1 – Recent loss of historic section of green wall
Building Green was saddened by recent action on 12 March to cut down a section of historic green wall next to the Volks workshop. Originally planted in 1872, approximately 6-8 Japanese spindle plants were cut, along with a large fig tree that was popular with local people. There was no prior notice or communication with Building Green.
This section of wall is part of the recently declared Local Wildlife Site – the only one of its kind in the UK.
The Council are commissioning a report into what happened, but the work is believed to have been a miscommunication relating to the creation of the new cycleway along Madeira Drive.
Building Green are hoping the spindle will grow back – our trials of copping these plants elsewhere along the green wall shows that they can regenerate, so we remain optimistic.
2 – Joining up the whole green wall with the MT30 project
Building Green is looking to prevent further miscommunication and ensure that the entire historic length of the green wall is considered as part of the regeneration of Madeira Drive.
As such we were pleased to have agreement from the Madeira Terraces MT30 project that the full length of green wall – east to the top of Duke’s Mound – will be included in the MT30 project.
3 – New planting at Duke’s Mound
Building Green has been unable to conduct any volunteer maintenance of the Duke’s Mound stretch of green wall during the pandemic.
However, Building Green’s Treasurer & Son have been quietly growing cuttings of Japanese spindle and will be planting these out in a recently re-surfaced section of the East cliff.
We are proud to see this volunteer action underway – as part of restoring the original extent of the green wall.
Remember the purpose of the project is to select c30 arches for restoration, to improve the seafront, prove the case and build momentum for funding the remaining 121 arches.
The design team is now at RIBA Stage 2 (see below). This is the phase of design that starts to get interesting, with drawings and initial whole life costings. A 3D model and topographical survey are underway across the whole Terrace. We haven’t seen this yet but will share it when complete.
The original date for groundworks was October – unsurprisingly, this is delayed. The major work of planning consents and contractor procurement remain, a major decisions still to make.
What is exciting is that many of our original ideas have been put forward and developed further, including the potential for planting parts of the mid-level walk (‘Max’s walk’), ideas for natural stormwater management and sustainable energy creation, and of course the protection and enhancement of the Green Wall.
How many of these get through cost consultancy we will see. Certainly the Green Wall is recognised now as an integral part of Madeira Drive. I will continue to push for its retention, enhancement and restoration as part of the wider seafront environment.
This year has been particularly good for Japanese spindle berries at the Madeira Drive green wall. Who knows why?
While we ponder that, here are some facts about this amazing plant.
Seeds are propogated by birds
It depends on bees, flies and hoverflies to pollinate the flowers
It is very tolerant of salty conditions, and a wide range of soil types
Roots and stems yield up to 7% gutta-percha, a non-elastic rubber used as an electrical insulator and in making plastics
Decoctions from the bark are considered to be tonic, anti-rheumatic, anhidoritic and diuretic. Chinese women use the leaves to aid difficult childbirths
It is host to a wide variety of invertebrates including Unaspis euonymi, a sap-sucking ‘scale’ insect; and dusty grey/black vine weevils, Otiorhynchus sulcatus, which can take notched nibbles out of leaf edges.
BUILDING GREEN Protecting the oldest, longest ‘green wall’ in the UK – Building Green needs advice and input. Building Green have been working with the Council, Portslade Green Gym and others for several years to bring Madeira Drive Green Wall the recognition it deserves. Now designated a Local Wildlife Site – the first of its kind in the UK – the green wall is home to over 100 species of flowering plant and is the oldest and longest green wall in the country, if not Europe.
Planted in 1872, the green wall originally covered over a mile of Brighton East Cliff below Kemp Town. Parts of the site have been lost and damaged over the years, but extensive stretches remain. Building Green have been leading its restoration – particularly at the Duke’s Mound end of Madeira Drive – and have a vision to protect, enhance and restore the green wall to its former extent.
The green wall pre-dates Madeira Terrace – the Grade II* structure which is the focus of work to restore and regenerate the East Brighton seafront. Building Green represent the Natural Environment on a stakeholder panel that was established by the Council to advise on this work, which is on track to begin with the restoration of 30 arches of the Terrace this autumn.
We also welcome input from Green Spaces Forum members on the restoration plans for Madeira Terrace – particularly in terms of the environmental components of the seafront and wider built and natural heritage.