On the Verge – Planting for the future

The A4320 Bike Path Verge is a tree planting initiative between Bristol’s Lawrence Hill roundabout and Stapleton road; currently a bare stretch of grass, void of plants and animals, it will soon be turned into a wildlife, carbon-capturing haven, with thanks to support from the Bristol Tree Forum.

I’m a resident in Easton and regular user of the bike path next to the A4320, along which is a 250m stretch of bare, council-owned roadside verge between Lawrence Hill roundabout and Stapleton Road, lacking in biodiversity, fertility and imagination.

Aerial image of part of the verge, Google Earth

In September 2020, I started a brilliant, eye-opening course in practical sustainability at Shift Bristol CIC. The course integrates land, food, social, economic and health factors to create resilient communities. It has focused my attention on the environment we live in and the multitude of benefits that natural systems can provide. Beside that, it has inspired me to take action and to make things happen!

Together, our team has designed the foundations of a tree planting project for the benefit of the local community. The idea is to create a ‘green buffer’ between the busy A4320 and the local residents and path users. This will improve local air quality, reduce noise pollution as well as providing food and habitats for insects and other wildlife.

Our vision is to regenerate the area into a haven for biodiversity and a natural space for people to enjoy – a statement of positivity and an investment in the future.

Initial design sketch for the green buffer.

Over the last months, we have assessed the site, researched its site history and reached out to local residents and the Council Tree Project team. Big thanks to the Bristol Tree Forum, who have been hugely supportive of our work!

The microclimate has been considered and our ecology survey assessed the existing plant species as well as the human and animal impacts on the site. We’ve analysed soil samples for texture, structure and soil life, and local sources of organic matter have been identified to support the tree planting.

We have chosen to source trees from the Woodland Trust, who have free tree packs available to community projects and these can be selected to provide attractive year-round colours, habitat for wildlife or a supply of native fruit and nuts.

One interesting finding was that the site has not always been so barren. Our research revealed that in 2014, before the building of the bike path, there were hundreds of trees and bushes lining the roadside. 

It’s worth noting that an attempt was made to plant trees all along here in 2015 after the construction of the bike path (and the destruction of the green space). Unfortunately, almost every tree planted had died within a year or two of planting and now no one seems to have taken responsibility for them. Sadly this is not unusual in Bristol. As a cyclist I welcome the new bike path, but it should not, and need not, be one or the other.

There is huge potential to regenerate urban spaces in Bristol, we just need to use our imagination as Rob Hopkins does and ask “What if?”. 

What if roadsides were made into wildflower verges, where bees, butterflies, birds and bugs thrived? We’ve lost 97% of ancient wild flower meadows since 1930 – who says they can’t return? Besides, there are huge savings to be had by the council through clever management of land.

What if the Downs, for example, were allowed to turn into a nature reserve? We could inspire community engagement and education in our schools – right on our doorstep.

If you’ve read this – great! Keep an eye out for green spaces needing trees or, more likely, grey spaces needing green. Get in touch or speak to the Bristol Tree Forum about making something happen or get a tree yourself and get planting!

Nick Haigh, guest editor

One thought on “On the Verge – Planting for the future”

  1. Nice to hear about your tree planting. Tree planting seems a simple way we can all contribute to help the environment.
    Me? I collect lots of acorns in autumn, then go round guerilla planting them anywhere, in hope they will gron

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