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Brownfield sites are the perfect pop-up for nature

The best of our brownfield sites have been described as 'Britain's rainforests' because of the variety of wildlife, rare and common, that colonises them.

New Pocket Park in Balsall Heath, corner of Haden Way and Moseley Road(Image: Abdullah Rehman)

I was struck by Joe Holyoak’s recent piece in the Post about pop-up architecture – temporary facilities appearing in cities and providing various services, such as street food. Almost everything he said about this could equally apply to sites colonised by nature, such as ‘dynamic, organic, spontaneous and transient’. The main difference is that pop-up architecture is designed and deliberately placed somewhere, pop-up nature just arrives without human intervention.

We are all familiar with empty corner plots, left-over bits of land, and places awaiting development, collectively known as brownfield sites. They may be there for months or years, used as short-cuts, dumping grounds or playgrounds. However long they are there and whatever they are used for nature will move in.

Initially a mixture of exotic and native grasses and wildflowers appear; such things as ragwort, thistles, mayweed and orchids abound. These provide food and shelter for insects, small mammals and birds. Our hard-pressed bees and other pollinating insects are well served by these informal ‘service stations’, and one of Britain’s rarest birds, the black redstart, has thrived around Birmingham and the Black Country in such places. Left for a few years sallows, Buddleia, birches and hawthorn and blackthorn are likely to turn up. Sometimes, as with Balsall Heath’s ‘pocket park’, they are retained.

Hawker Yard pop-up idea is long-term winner

The invertebrate charity Buglife has described the best of our brownfield sites as ‘Britain’s rainforests’ because of the variety of wildlife, rare and common, that colonises them. The best, and often the largest, brownfield sites sometimes become nature reserves, frozen in time to protect and maintain their very special habitats.

There will always, though, be a succession of small sites appearing and disappearing. Perhaps we should take a lead from the architects and entrepreneurs and do just enough with some of them to help them become more enjoyable features of the urban environment. Not necessarily planting or even doing very much tidying up. Rather, provide some information about what is happening on site, define the boundaries and make sure there is safe and easy access. Most importantly, keep the owners on side, by agreeing to let the site go when the development process catches up.

So, to add to existing parks and other open spaces, why not a few dozen nature pop-ups throughout Birmingham and the Black Country? Some could even host those street food vendors.

Twitter: @PeteWestbrom

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