Following our living wall creation last month, the University of Edinburgh’s Easter Bush campus attracted our attention when we heard of the large living wall installed on the side of the Charnock Bradley building, situated in a rural pocket to the east of the Pentland Hills1. With the guidance of Jonathan Long (Landscape Services Manager for the University’s Estates Department), Alice discovered a whole hive of pollinator-friendly actions.
There are clues everywhere of this summer’s pollinator-friendly actions at Easter Bush campus. Remnants of large wildflower meadows, which caught the attention of many visitors during peak season, have recently been cut back in preparation for the winter months.
Wildflower meadow in summer (left – photo by Jonathan Long) and autumn (right)
It’s not all too hard to imagine the beauty of certain wildflower patches during the heighten months. Swathes of wildflower seed heads (once part of a Rainbow seed mix) are still speckled with the last remaining multi-coloured flowering heads as the season comes to a close.
Rainbow seed mix producing a colourful display during summer months (photo by Jonathan Long)
Leaving grass to grow for biodiversity isn’t a new concept to gardeners. In a world where we recognise short, manicured grass as the norm, it’s nice to see the steps adopted to take grass out of the continuous mowing regime and make a positive change for biodiversity. I could still see paths which were cut through the summer meadow and naturalised grass, signs that these sites are managed, but for a different purpose.
Paths created through naturalised grass to maintain the areas for people and biodiversity
The Estates Department manages multiple sites across the city, from university grounds to woodland forests. They have to stay up-to-date with the latest machinery to optimise efficiency. A few weeks ago, they planted 50,000 bulbs in 4 hours with a machine-planting, in preparation for next spring. By investing in this rapid planting process, bulbs that would otherwise sit inside over the winter were planted in a way that limited nuisance to locals and disruption of soil for insects.
The University of Edinburgh also understands the importance of informing the public about the landscape management. There are signs where new wildflower patches are being created for next year – an excellent way to communicate the importance of these sites for biodiversity.
Sites which are being prepared for wildflower sowing are signposted – a great action for raising awareness
Moving on to green infrastructure – the innovative specialist research facility building was designed to reduce its impact on the environment. The uniquely shaped building has a 54 panel external living wall featuring 30 ft. high vertical segments that run across three of its faces.
The external living wall gives the impression of being planted into the building
Species including ferns, strawberry and heather make up the walls composition. And that’s not all; when you enter the building, you’ll be are greeted by an internal living wall to feast your eyes on.
Internal living wall, approximately 60 m2
I had a realistic perspective on what it is like to keep such a large living wall. Maintenance is costly and involves external contractors cutting it back regularly. Plants must not be over or under watered, otherwise fungi may spread and roots freeze. The wall also requires replacement of 15 – 20% of the plants every year.
However, benefiting from the heat of the building, the plants created their own micro-climate during the extended cold spells at the start of the year, and did better than most of the ground plants on site. The internal and external living walls on a research campus visited by people from all over the world will attract the eyes and imagination of many.
Although not visible from the ground, a handful of the campus buildings supports green roofs. The lessons learnt from them are to encourage the planting of wildflowers from the onset and ensure access for maintenance.
Living walls are most beneficial where space for horizontal planting is limited. Where possible, the upkeep of living walls and green roofs should be built into long-term maintenance contracts.
There are cheaper options to be considered by community and charity groups. Planting seeds instead of plug plants reduces the costs significantly – which creates the additional excitement of watching your wall grow and change! If the wall is a few metres high, it can be cut back and maintained by keen souls willing to lend a hand.
For Easter Bush, their biodiversity dedication doesn’t stop at pollinators. The site hosts naturalised water features with the SUDS attenuation ponds creating wetland habitats that attract many bird and insect species. It looks like the Easter Bush campus could be a perfect location for a BioBlitz in summer, and I look forward to revisiting to see all the flowers in full bloom!
By Alice Brawley
1 Part of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, the new building is a campus central hub and a world-leading centre for research in animal biosciences, animal health care and education.