bfoe biophilic cities

In April Birmingham was the first British city invited to join a global network of “biophilic cities” – urban centres celebrated for their green credentials, their open spaces and their links to nature.

But in May, it decided to cover Park Street Gardens and Digbeth community garden with concrete!

Beyond this sad looking wall in Shaw’s Passage behind Birmingham Friends of the Earth’s warehouse, was an area which had been fenced off and forgotten by the council. It became overgrown and strewn with litter.

bfoe wall and fence

In 1998 a small band of volunteers decided to tidy up the site and held a party there to celebrate BFOE’s 21st anniversary.

bfoe header

They were granted access by the council and have used the space ever since as a composting area for the kitchen and café, a bike storage area for users of the building, a nesting site for birds in the heart of the city centre and a social space.

Digbeth Community Garden

However, campaigner Robert Pass writes: “We became inspired by the dream of creating a true Community Garden in the heart of the concrete jungle. A space for local people to grow food, to learn about sustainable crafts and skills, to socialise and to commune with nature: Digbeth Community Garden was born!”

bfoe volunteers2

A small band of volunteers organised regular Saturday workdays to tackle the overgrown buddleia, which was blocking light and crowding out other plants and pathways. In the middle of the garden there was a stand of self-set silver birch, (which are perhaps 15 years old), whitebeam, hazel, hawthorn and cherry laurel, which provides a rich habitat for invertebrates.

bfoe pallets raised beds

The disused industrial site was already polluted with traces of lead, arsenic, copper and zinc, so the volunteers used some of the pallets lying around and created raised beds for growing food on donated topsoil – the contamination challenge became a design feature.

bfoe salvaging bricksPaths were made using donated slabs and gravel while a patio for the social area was constructed out of the huge pile of bricks (left) recovered from the original Victorian warehouse – almost all of the materials used in the garden are salvaged or recycled.

But in May 2014, just as volunteers were beginning work on a pond and wetland area, they were notified by a local resident that the council was preparing to sell the land and planning permission was being drawn up to build a car park.

Robert continues: “Our first thought was, just what Digbeth needs; more car parks! Our second thought was disbelief and shock . . .”.

Birmingham Friends of the Earth calls on friends and supporters to consider voicing objections to this sale, writing to the council leader, Sir Albert Bore or Councillor Lisa Trickett, (Cabinet Member for Green, Smart and Sustainable City) or to the local paper.