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Thomas Clarkson Academy, Wisbech, students making bug boxes at Manea School of Gardening.
Thomas Clarkson Academy, Wisbech, students making bug boxes at Manea School of Gardening.

Sustainable Gardening is one of the units covered on our RHS Practical Certificate courses.

Yes, we do encourage sustainability in all units, from growing fruit and veg, to propagation or pruning, as this is the way we should all be thinking. We are just one living thing on the planet – let’s spare more than a passing thought for the others!

So why the big issue now? We all know that the environment is suffering from our actions – but we really can do something about it. As gardeners, or just as garden owners – even if not keen gardeners – we really can make a difference.

Gardens, or privately-owned outdoor space, actually makes up a very large proportion of the land is this country. Farmers and larger land owners are, on the whole, aware of their role as ‘custodians of the land’ and are making positive steps to encourage biodiversity along with their role of producing food for the nation.

The UK may be a highly populated country, but actually the urban landscape only accounts for around 7% of the total land area; England 10.6%, Scotland 1.9%, Wales 4.1%, N Ireland 3.6%. ‘Urban’ includes our rural developments and roads.

However, even though land may be classed as urban, this is not the same as built on – as over half the land in towns and cities is greenspace such as parks, allotments, sports pitches and so on. And domestic gardens account for another 18% of urban land use.

Take our site here in Manea, for example. Prior to the School of Gardening, part of the site was a commercial horticultural nursery. Prior to that it was a tree-less smallholding producing vegetables.

The other part of the site was an overgrown field which had, apparently, once been an orchard – but we are talking probably in the 1960’s as it was well overgrown by the time I moved here in the early 1980’s. It attracted field mice, and we saw the occasional kestrel. But little else.

In the last few years we have planted trees and hedging, dug out ponds and bog areas, built nest boxes and log piles. We are not a nature reserve – many of the plants in our garden are not native, it doesn’t matter. The biodiversity of the area is now unquestionable – in fact, can be quite distracting when teaching!

Reed warblers, long-tailed tits and great spotted woodpeckers are doing their best to disrupt lessons. No doubt they will soon be joined by nesting mallards and moorhens.

Butterflies abound – despite the national decline in numbers, apparently, and we are now ‘home’ for countless species of dragonflies and wild bees.

We cannot claim to have had anything rare or endangered – but that is not what it is about. It is our role to ensure that our native species do not become scarce in the first place. I am so glad this is now considered part of horticultural training!

For more details on all things horticultural, including their qualifications, go to www.rhs.org.uk

- Manea School of Gardening (RHS Approved Centre)

www.maneaschoolof gardening.org


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