Carol Whitehead MSGD led the transformation of a wasteland strip into a wildlife haven
Since 2014 I have headed up a project at Seaford Allotments in East Sussex to turn an overgrown area into a bio-diverse corridor. The allotment boundary – a 100m strip on a steep slope on a 30 degree gradient on thin, chalky soil – was a wasteland, infested with sycamores and brambles. Maintenance was irregular and weeds were increasingly unmanageable. Residents had complained to the council, but nothing had been done.
Along with the allotment chairman, I met with disgruntled neighbours and we hatched a plan to create a bio-diverse corridor. I took on the volunteer role of project manager, surveying the site and preparing a feasibility study. A fellow plot holder helped me with funding applications. By August 2015 the Big Lottery Fund had awarded us £9,716 and Seaford Town Council had donated £2,000 towards upgrading our Portaloo to a new disabled compost toilet.
A professional team cleared and levelled the site during winter 2015. Volunteers then planted a native hedge along the boundary fence – in the future it will be used as a skills training site by the South of England Hedge Laying Society. A hazel coppice area was also planted to provide stakes to harvest when laying the hedge in winter.
A micro fruit orchard (from English Woodland) was planted above the native boundary hedge, underplanted with Muscari, Narcissus pseudonarcissus and Camassia. In April 2016, a wildflower meadow was sown between the orchard and native hedge to attract pollinating insects. Permission has recently been granted to place beehives there.
Uprooted sycamore trunks from the clear up were upturned and stacked into the ground to make a stumpery, planted with foxgloves, primroses and spring bulbs. Volunteers also planted a living willow enclosure, a nectar-rich dye garden around a pond, and a Hugel pile, which receives pruned branches from the allotment site.
Rainwater collection stations have been constructed on difficult areas of allotment ground. The project has required a review of my usual working procedures and came with numerous challenges, such as getting ideas past eight committee members and 193 plot holders. I was able to put my professional skills to use, with concept and feasibility studies, a planning application, project managing contractors and budget.
I investigated the many styles of compost toilets, researched nectar-rich native and wildflower meadow planting, oversaw plot holders’ creative installations and learned new skills, such as traditional hedge laying and scything. The project has had a wonderful knock-on effect on crop pollination, and the whole area has a new lease of life. It’s been a different approach to my domestic garden design work, which has a relatively quick turnaround. Working with local volunteers in this way, with diverse abilities and skills, plus limited funds, can really broaden a designer’s skills and outlook.