Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Ain't nature wonderful?

The footpath runs through a nature reserve. Among the wealth of wild flowers and trees, there's an abundance of birds, insects and mammals. At this time of year, there's plenty of wild blackberry and elderberry be enjoyed, too, to be followed by the sloes, and, if the squirrels don't get there first, some nuts.

There's not much unnatural noise, either; just the constant hum of traffic on the A4 at the Bath Road Park and Ride.

In the southern part of the reserve, volunteers from Friends of Stockwood Open Spaces have spent months clearing some of the thick undergrowth of bramble to regain access to the old orchard.

So far around 100 apple trees have been rediscovered, plus some pears, plums, and damsons. In October, there'll be an apple pressing day - locals can bring their own apples, or those freely gathered from the orchard, for pressing and go home with bottles of the fresh juice.

The Open Space is a free luxury - somewhere to escape to, to enjoy, to value - even to feed from.

But put a spade in the soil, and as likely as not its blade won't sink right in - there'll be a brick or other rubble, or a bit of old iron in the way. Between 1954 and 1978 this was the Stockwood Lane municipal tip, taking industrial, commercial and household waste. The footpath in the picture was the main access road, down which a procession of loaded wagons would bring the city's rubbish. Strictly, it isn't a landfill; like most tips, it was really a 'land-raise' operation, altering the natural topography of the countryside.

I'm not a great fan of landfill - it's generally the worst possible of options for all the 'stuff' that we no longer have any immediate use for. But thirty years on, this part of the Stockwood Open Space shows little evidence of this ugly period of its history. The wildlife and the fruits thrive, and the local people (those in the know) come to enjoy it.

Four or five miles to the west, another more controversial one-time landfill site, Parsonage Farm, is not being returned to nature so easily. Like Stockwood, this one was farmland commandeered for refuse disposal, and it received the same kind of treatment - but without the household waste. Now, it's become the battleground between those who want it protected as an Ashton Vale Town Green, and those who see it as a vital stepping stone for Bristol City's future success in the upper heights of English football. Possibly others see it as a way of making lots of money, but that's another story.

This Ashton Vale ex-landfill site is once again being dismissed in the comment columns of the Evening Post as a muddy field, a rubbish tip, a dog's toilet, or worse. Just the place for a dream stadium, fast-food outlets, car parking, a hotel, and the rest.

I don't doubt that the Stockwood Open Space could have been dismissed just as strongly a few years back.

It's our good fortune that it wasn't.


between-the-lines said...

Thanks for a lovely description, Pete.

How many times do we have to keep reminding ourselves just how priceless 'brownfields' (a piece of language deliberately deployed by modern planners to stir prejudice) really are?

How very important they are for wildlife, recreation and for natural and unregimented free play.

Many of the most wonderful parks and green spaces in Bristol are former industrial or landfill, so let's not forget it, but celebrate it.


PS. Have you identified any varieties in the orchard (sorry if I missed that, please re-mind me)?

Stockwood Pete said...

Thanks, between-the-lines. No, we've not identified particular varieties, though for some it's pretty certain what group they fall into. But this is the first time in years that most of them have been accessible, so we've a lot of sampling to do.

Presumably it would need a real specialist to identify particular varieties by taste?

between-the-lines said...

ID specialists are available. James Russell might be in contact with a few as apparently he's written a book on apples and lives locally.

If no luck there then the Wildlife Trust will know some, as they've been hosting Apple Days for years now, with ID.

"we've a lot of sampling to do"

Lucky you, sounds like you've got some fun in store!