The Gym is back in town! Volunteers revisit the Madeira Drive green wall for the first time since the pandemic

The Gym is back in town! Volunteers revisit the Madeira Drive green wall for the first time since the pandemic

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.

Lopping and chopping – Portslade Green Gym volunteers working in the sunshine at Madeira Drive Green Wall, Brighton & Hove

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.

Portslade Green Gym volunteers warming up in the sunshine at Madeira Drive Green Wall, Brighton & Hove

Our thanks to the Council team for cutting back along the path edge this week, to keep the pavement clear for pedestrians.

After! These babies were planted in May 2019 from cuttings taken in summer 2018…so 4 years old!

Next volunteer work day is 18 November. Come and say hello, or lend a hand.

Fabulous wildlife sighting along Madeira Drive Green Wall as a flock of swifts descend

It’s the first swift record for the Madeira Drive Green wall – and in style, as over 50 birds descended this evening to feed above and along Madeira Drive and Duke’s Mound.

Some birds were even flying a few feet above the beach, and along the sea.

As it was drizzly and overcast there were few people about to appreciate it, so here’s a couple of videos that capture something of the moment.

Madeira Drive green wall update and what needs to be done next

Madeira Drive green wall update and what needs to be done next

The news of the cutting of the green wall has spread far and wide.

There have been multiple stories on The Argus, Brighton & Hove Independent, More Radio and BBC Sussex.

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.
News on Madeira Drive green wall – recent loss, new planting and a change of scope

News on Madeira Drive green wall – recent loss, new planting and a change of scope

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.

Clearing a recently resurfaced section of green wall ready for planting Japanese spindle

Update from Building Green

Update from Building Green

The following update was published today in the Brighton & Hove Green Spaces Forum winter newsletter.

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.

Building Green welcomes volunteers, who can get in touch through our website at .

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.

Download the winter newsletter below.

Volunteering cancelled at Madeira Drive green wall

Volunteering cancelled at Madeira Drive green wall

Unfortunately green wall maintenance has been stopped again, as Covid-19 restrictions continue.

The council don’t allow volunteers over 70 years old to work at present, and of course as of today not in groups over 6. Our mighty Green Gym guys and gals fail on both counts…we hope they are keeping active and connected to each other in other ways.

It’s a tough decision. Parts of the green wall are now growing onto the pavement, so Building Green has asked the council to organise some cutting back.

We look forward to restrictions lifting and work starting up again as soon as possible.

Madeira Terrace – restoration planning begins

Madeira Terrace – restoration planning begins

Building Green Chair James Farrell represents natural heritage on the Madeira Terrace Stakeholder Advisory Panel. 

Any readers with an interest in environment, and the protection and enhancement of the Madeira Drive Green Wall, can feed ideas into James by contacting us.

Recent activity has included:

  • Appointing a design team, including famous architects Purcell Architecture
  • Sub-contractors Landscape Projects Ltd. developing plans for landscaping including the protection of the Green Wall
  • Scoping advice for contractors to avoid damage to the green wall during the period before restoration, and during any future work
  • Exploring the use of car parking costs for Madeira Terrace restoration

Meetings are monthly, if you have comments or concerns do send them in.

Painting by Vincenzo Donlini.

Old photograph proves planting date for Madeira Drive green wall

Old photograph proves planting date for Madeira Drive green wall

For some years we have been digging through archives to find the planting date for the Japanese Spindle at Madeira Drive…part of the oldest, longest green wall in the UK.

We have now uncovered this 1872-3 photograph from the James Gray collection that clearly shows the plants at the bottom of the East Cliff – as well as the new hedge being carefully established on the promenade. Benches too – public realm with nature at its heart, 148 years ago.

What a fantastic image – in stereo no less! – and great to have this photographic proof at last.


“A later photograph, probably about 1872/1873. By now, the Aquarium had been built, on the site of the esplanade, and the few hesitant steps towards the construction of Madeira Drive had commenced. Note the long line of sapling trees and the ladies’ bathing machines.
Both are, of course, recent copies of old stereoscopic photographs.”
Image Reference: JG_05_016.tif
Date: 1872-1873
Image Details: Copy
Size of Original: 188×101
Place: Brighton
Additional Information©Philippe Garner