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.
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.
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.
Those intrepid volunteers from Green Gym are going to be back in action this month, caring for the precious planting along Duke’s Mound.
Part of the Maderia Drive Green Wall, they cut back red valerian, ivy and other plants which can crowd out more sensitive vegetation, and generally do a sterling job of making the area look great. They have fun whilst they do it too!
Thursday 17 September, 10am, Duke’s Mound
They will take all necessary Covid-19 precautions as they do it, alongside their usual attention to health, safety and wellbeing.
What has Oscar Wilde got to do with the Madeira Drive green wall?
Bear with. Madeira Road was opened in 1870, forming a new promenade along the bottom of East Cliff, and connecting people from the wealthy Brighton and Kemp Town with the seaside. Our new theory is that it was named ‘Madeira’ after the island’s greenery.
One man who did much to popularise Madeira as the ‘garden isle’ was Sir William Wilde…you guessed it…father of Oscar. An excellent botanist, he wrote of the vines and terraced gardens, praising the ‘hothouse of the open air’ that he grew to know on his visits from the late 1830s. Madeira became popular with Victorian visitors through the 19th Century for much the same reasons that Brighton did – for the health giving properties of seaside living and recreation, as well as its luxuriant gardens.
Madeira Drive green wall was planted in 1872, and we expect that it was always part of the vision of for Madeira Road to establish vegetation to soften the hard cliff and new road, and encourage people to spend time there.
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.
So Madeira Drive Green Wall is extra well named…our little slice of the ‘garden isle’ on the Sussex coast.
And what of Oscar? A frequent Brighton visitor, and sometime Worthing resident, Oscar lectured in the Pavilion in 1884, avoided long walks, and crashed his cart into the railings of Regency Square in 1894. I don’t know that he ever saw the newly established saplings of Japanese Spindle of Madeira Road…but I hope that he did.
With thanks to Derek Wright for the prompt to research this piece.