In the height of summer the M8 motorway, as it winds from the Erskine Bridge towards Greenock, is a lovely route to travel. The views of the Argyll hills and the glint of light on the mouth of the River Clyde never fail to impress. However, stop off in Greenock and you will be captivated by some very special urban greenspaces.
A good first stop would be the Belville area of Greenock.
Here the energetic citizens of Greenock have been transforming a deserted plot with panache and no little skill. Belville Gardens sits on a site which became vacant when seven high-rise blocks of flats were demolished. People campaigned strongly not to have the site developed, and they decided they wanted a community garden.
From this campaign has grown a sense of community and the area now houses both a community garden and a biodiversity garden.
The Community Garden grows fruit and vegetables for local use in cookery classes, commercial preserves and for community distribution. Seven rectangular-shaped raised beds are used for vegetable growing and named after the high flats which once stood on the site. Amongst recent successes have been potatoes, onions, brussel sprouts, and leeks.
The Belville Trust owns part of the site, although they continue to work closely with River Clyde Homes who own the bit which contains the Inverclydebuzz biodiversity garden. In this bit of land the emphasis is on providing a home for nature, and there is a particular emphasis on providing food and shelter for pollinators. But people are very welcome too and eventually it will have a woodland and wildflower walk, along with information panels.
Laura Reilly, of Inverclydebuzz, and Lorne Gill, SNH’s award-winning photographer.
Laura Reilly, a local beekeeper, sits on the board of the Belville Trust and was one of the driving forces behind the biodiversity garden in particular. It’s an achievement to be proud of as Laura explained when we met recently “I think bringing a bit of joy back into the community and using nature and biodiversity within an urban area is a good thing. It’s something that people can feel involved in. We have a really popular facebook site that can get thousands of hits, so clearly it’s a popular development. At the end of the day it is simply nice to have a bit of breathing space in this area for the local community to enjoy.”
The biodiversity garden at Belville Crescent epitomises the hard work involved in turning a pipedream into reality. When you first see the site the impression is of an army of professional workers having been here, but once the site was cleared it was ordinary people who transformed the site.
A huge log that dominates one corner of the site was a gift from Ardgowan Estate and a friendly local farmer used his tractor to transport it to the site. The impressive bug hotel was made by Conservation Trust Volunteers, whilst a local Scout pack built the cairn and the seating on the site. River Clyde Homes very kindly laid the path. Maintenance of any site is important and in Greenock a Monday Gardening Club uses the site regularly. They provide invaluable help by continually clearing up, and helping with the inevitable seasonal jobs. There may not be any rare species to report at Belville Gardens but the increasing number of pollinators is impressive and the locals will keep on surveying and hopefully see a ‘year on year’ increase.
Why did Laura get involved? “I am a local beekeeper and keen on planning gardens. It is in the local beekeeping constitution that we should be doing work to promote biodiversity. We got a little grant from Tesco and we started hunting for little patches of land and it just snowballed from there really. We are now in the fortunate position of having a grant from Central Scotland Green Network to carry out some more strategic work and this will help us move from being opportunistic and looking for ad hoc patches of land, to doing something more structured.” A vision now is creating a green corridor in Inverclyde that will benefit pollinators and people.
For any community looking to follow in the footsteps of Greenock there are lessons that the the Belville Trust are only too happy to share.
To summarise them all here would be impossible, but here are a few key jumping off points. Having good communications with the council always pays dividends. More often than not the council are a key partner in any works and working with them is a key step in moving ideas along. Having a vision of what you want the transformation to achieve is important too. And patience is certainly a virtue in this line of work. Seeing a site ripe for transformation is one thing, getting to know its qualities is another and the suggestion is that taking time to find out what thrives in the area and what kind of soil you are going to be working with is another vital step. The simple act of looking at and surveying a potential site is certainly a must. And reach out to other groups, there is a lot of help and advice out there.
Higher up in Greenock sits Blairmore Crescent, and here Inverclydebuzz have another success story to tell. They don’t own the site but working with the council they have been able to ‘acquire’ the land under the trees here to create ‘bee and butterfly glades’. The council maintain the site, particularly the closely mown grass but were keen to help the group enhance the look and biodiversity of the area. That was a great opportunity and the council expertise in dealing with contaminated land – the site sits on a former railway site – was an absolute must.
Visiting in the height of summer the glades were a riot of colour and texture. As Laura noted a lot of planning and a little dash of luck went a long way here, “I’m glad we planted a mixture of seeds, and that mix of seeds from Scotia Seeds has meant that we have not only had a slightly different look to the glade each year, but we have had things coming out at different times. Although the Council have given us patches of land to use here they very kindly still manage this for us and that means that they don’t cut the grass in spring and summer but take away the risings when summer draws to an end. We couldn’t achieve what we have here without the Council being right behind us.”
Transforming brownfield sites, and enhancing existing green spaces, are wonderful achievements. Once famed for ships and sugar Greenock is firmly on track to be a leading light in creating urban havens for pollinators and people.
Watch the short film about the work of Inverclyebuzz in Greenock @ https://youtu.be/N5uzGi-IsiI
Find out more about Inverclydebuzz on their website.