Following my recent article about the London Wildlife Trust taking over maintenance of Regent’s Canal towpath from Camley Street to the Islington tunnel, I was reminded that up until 2012, much of that maintenance was done by the voluntary organisation Thornhill Bridge Community Gardeners, then the Islington Council contract was given to London Wildlife Trust who are paid to maintain these green spaces and welcome local volunteers.
Also in April this year the wonderful Cally Arts organised 55 volunteers from a city company who came to Thornhill Bridge Community Garden and contributed a great deal in terms of gardening, metalwork painting and temporary artwork. This was described as ‘the equivalent of seven months work in one day’. The community garden is a shining example of gardening for urban wildlife.
The towpath is highly prized locally as a green wildlife friendly space, one of all too few in King’s Cross. If you have any outside space, no matter how small, I highly recommend the rewarding hobby of gardening to encourage urban wildlife.
For ideas about how to do this the national Wildlife Gardening Forum is an amazing source of information. This year they presented early findings from a joint research project with RHS Wisley and I was lucky to attend. Early results clearly showed that native and near-native plants (ie plants from the northern hemisphere that have evolved in similar climates to ours) out perform exotic plants (those that evolved in the southern hemisphere) hands down – exotic plants tend to discourage local wildlife. More results will be available soon; I have the detailed early findings and would be happy to share these with anyone interested, just drop me an email or comment to this post.
Gardening for wildlife is rather different to more traditional forms of gardening. Plants are chosen to attract various species of insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals rather than for show alone. It can be an interesting journey where the beauty of a plant becomes more than just its brightly coloured flower or striking foliage, it becomes about how that plant fits into local ecology, what it brings to the party. Maintenance is different too, wildlife gardeners tend to use organic practices shunning commonly available chemicals known to harm the ecology system and further, shunning chemicals not yet known to do such harm. Pruning is often a great deal lighter and care is taken about where and when to prune so as not to destroy important habitat. Garden waste, rather than being immediately cleared, is gathered and left to become additional habitat. A wildlife garden is often a tapestry of planting, each carefully chosen for the vital job it does. I’m passionate about this precisely because I live in King’s Cross where I feel gardening for wildlife is a daily struggle for survival as we have so little habitat and much of that is constantly under threat from unsympathetic property development, traditional – often over zealous – gardening methods and criminal damage.
Although I referred to criminal damage to trees at Thornhill Bridge Community Garden in my earlier post about towpath maintenance, I forgot to include the more recent criminal damage to a tree immediately behind Copenhagen School on the towpath. Just a couple of months ago the root system of the tree was undermined and the tree was killed.
It’s worth all towpath users remaining vigilant to possible criminal damage by reporting early signs (removal of tree bark, artificial holes under root systems and so on) to the Canals and Rivers Trust, email or call 0303 040 4040 and they’ll put you through to the local office.