Volunteers restore oldest, longest green wall in UK

Volunteers restore oldest, longest green wall in UK

Today volunteers with Building Green planted 45 Japanese Spindle plants to fill the gaps in the green wall at Madeira Drive, Brighton & Hove.

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Some of the volunteers at work

Originally established in 1872 this green wall is the oldest and longest of its kind in the UK. The plants were grown on from cuttings taken from the site and should one day reach as high as their 20m tall, 150 year old neighbours!

A big thank you to everyone involved.

Madeira Terraces – the beginning of an advisory panel

Last night Building Green attended a meeting of around 40 people interested in the future of Madeira Terraces and the regeneration of East Brighton seafront.

The focus was on shaping an advisory panel, that will represent interest groups in the city and work with the Council to ensure the restoration of Madeira Terraces, and the vision for the area.

Building Green is particularly keen to represent the voice of the environment in this process – not only the famous ‘green wall’, but the wider environment it is connected to…the sea, the beach and its vegetated shingle habitat, and the garden squares in Kemptown above.

Below you can listen to a recording – thanks to the Save Madeira Terraces gang! – of Building Green founder James Farrell speaking about the importance of the environment as an integral part of the seafront.

green wall bicycle Madeira Terrace

Download – Madeira Drive Green Wall small poster

 

Help needed! Planting at Madeira Drive Green Wall

The time has come to plant some new Japanese spindle at Madeira Drive green wall!

We need people to come and help on Sunday 12 May at 11am, Duke’s Mound (click for a map).

We will be planting these cuttings to fill in gaps in the green wall that runs up the hill from the eastern end of Madeira Terrace opposite Banjo groyne.

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Japanese spindle cuttings ready to be planted

No special skills required,. Bring spades, forks and gloves if you can – if not just bring a smile! Feel free to contact us to let us know if you are coming.

This is part of achieving Building Green’s vision for a fully restored green wall, thriving in wildlife, and a major contribution to the beauty of the seafront. The oldest, longest green wall in the UK.

Madeira Drives, old and new

Approximately 100 years separates these photos, showing Madeira Drive, the Volks railway, Kemp Town and the Madeira Drive green wall

 

Figs on the front. It’s all about sex.

Many people ask me about the fig trees growing on Madeira Drive at the bottom of the green wall.

We all know about the leaves used to cover Adam and Eve’s modesty, but are figs really all about sex? Well, yes.

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There are 2 trees at the bottom of Paston Place, one growing 10m tall. They are often cut back hard, but grow back quickly…tough and hardy plants even in our salty and windy climate.

Ours are male figs…so whilst they have fruit, it’s dry and inedible. In the wild, you need males and females to reproduce (like us), but also a little help from a tiny wasp (unlike us).

According to Jonathan Drori in his great book ‘Around the world in 80 trees’, in the native Turkey, the wasps (Blastophaga) are female, stingless and tiny. Wasps of both sexes hatch inside male figs and mate, the males burrowing out to die. Male figs produce pollen…which covers the female wasp as she leaves the burrow made by the male in search of figs to lay eggs in.

It’s a one way trip with a 50-50 success rate. Getting into a new fig strips off her wings so there’s no turning back. If it’s a male fig then she lays eggs which hatch to continue the cycle of life. If it’s a female fig, tough luck – it doesn’t fit her anatomy so she can’t lay eggs. She does however spread pollen around unwittingly as she goes, and when she dies her body contributes to the plant’s growth.

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A couple more interesting facts. The smell of the ripe female figs is designed to attract bats and birds to spread the seeds. And the natural laxative effect of eating the figs ensures the seeds get a good dollop of fertiliser to help them along.

So if we can’t eat the fruit, what about the leaves? I once met someone who picked a fig leaf to munch on his way along Madeira Drive every day and swore by the health benefits. Well, turns out regular consumption may lower triglycerides which are implicated in obesity and heart disease. Just watch out for that laxative effect!

Madeira Drive green wall – a 3 point plan

Building Green has a simple 3 point plan for the green wall at Madeira Drive Brighton, the focus of major redevelopment and heritage restoration proposals.

Madeira Drive Green Wall is the longest, oldest green wall in  the UK and will be the first to be designated a Site of Nature Conservation Importance. The wall is integral to Madeira Terraces, a unique ironwork structure that is under threat from lack of maintenance and investment. Building Green work with the Save Madeira Terraces Campaign, the council and other partners in a collaborative endeavour to shape the best possible future for our seafront.

This plan is supported by extensive surveys by Building Green volunteers, which are free to download at the end of this article.

 1. Protect and maintain the best sections of green wall

The priority is to protect the sections of green wall below and above the terraces where there are mature Japanese Spindle plants. There are over 100 of these, and each ‘tree’, approximately 150 years old, has magnificent curving trunks that wind their way up the cliff from ground level. These plants support a wide variety of other flowering plants, as well as home to birds and other wildlife. The repetitive planting scheme mirrors the serried ranks of Victorian arches that are such as special feature of Madeira Terraces. The views under the terraces of these arches and Spindle trunks are key to the impact and beauty of the original Victorian vision, and are irreplaceable.

Building Green would prefer no development under the arches in these sections, particularly between Concorde 2 and Paston Place.

Ongoing maintenance of these sections – and the green wall throughout – is crucial.

2. Enhance sections of wall to encourage greater coverage

There are many parts of the wall where the Japanese Spindle was damaged or removed in the past. However Japanese Spindle is not the only plant of value – there are now over 100 species of plants found at Madeira Drive green wall.

Building Green would work with developers to find imaginative solutions to conserving, where possible, other plants of conservation value; removing plants where they can become invasive; and enhancing sections of wall to encourage greater ‘green’ coverage.

In these areas there are likely to be imaginative solutions to incorporating green wall features as well as ‘pods’ or other development under the arches.

Building Green will continue working with volunteers at Duke’s Mound to restore the green wall to its original extent, improve its biodiversity, and make it look fantastic for visitors and local residents.

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3. Create new green wall and green the Terrace walkway.

The green wall was originally over a mile long. Building Green wants to see planting restored to the full length, as there are many bare patches and sections.

In these sections, development could take place without harm to existing nature. We suggest these are the first priority for ‘pods’ and other businesses under the arches. However, all development will be expected to make a ‘net gain‘ for biodiversity, and there are many opportunities to enhance development proposals with environmental benefits.

One exciting vision from Building Green is to plant the terrace walkway like the New York ‘high line‘ – creating a new linear seafront park, a major tourist attraction in its own right, and a draw for visitors to the new businesses that will find a home on Madeira Drive. New green wall features should be installed on the upper East cliff (retaining wall).

Building Green web

Surveys and other supporting information

Arch by arch biodiversity survey, indicating areas of value to nature and natural heritage. Madeira Drive Arches Survey 2017

Madeira Drive species list – the flowering plants and other wildlife found along the green wall. Madeira Drive Green Wall Plant Species List 12.09.2017

Plans mapping the extent of green wall coverage along the length of Madeira Drive retaining wall. Surveyed by Building Green c2014.