FOLLOWING a ban on the use of chemical herbicides to control amenity weeds, the most eco-conscious council in the country has a fight on its hands with ‘out-of-place’ green plants, which is the crude definition of a weed. 

Hundreds of Brighton and Hove residents initially signed a petition to prevent pollution and contamination by weed-killing chemicals such as glyphosate with alleged implications for human health and environmental integrity. But all is not quiet on the Brighton seafront, with some residents saying the consequences of a herbicide-free environment is a rewilding step too far. 

Indeed, the tide appears to have turned along Brighton’s famous promenade, with residents saying weeds have taken over walkways and pavements in what sounds like something out of The Day of the Triffids. Reports and pictures show weeds bursting through pavements to cause trip hazards which are claimed to have sent two elderly ladies to hospital. 

But sprouting pavements is only part of a growing problem with unmanaged hedgerows left to overgrow and pose hazards to the partially sighted and able-bodied alike, becoming an increasing feature of the landscape across hard-pressed local authorities up and down the land. 

Pedestrians complain of sustaining injuries from overhanging bushes and branches. And when you consider that hawthorn and blackthorn are the two most common components of ‘natural’ hedgerows, lacerations to the face and other parts of the body are not a figment of the imagination. Is the price of urban rewilding a stab in the eye with a sharp stick?

An increased risk from road traffic is another problem where overgrown hedgerows border pavements alongside main roads, and about which I am only too aware from personal experience. Hedgerow management appears to have taken a back seat in my own local authority, though not because the council has particularly green ambitions. After slaughtering the hedge outside my house every year and at the wrong time (during bird nesting season), the hedge has not been managed at all for the last 3–4 years. 

This may be great for hedgerow enthusiasts like me who can now enjoy all the flowers and fruits of the seasons, including an abundance of blossom and berries on hawthorn, blackthorn, dogwood and elder. But excess growth has narrowed the pavement alongside a busy A road to no more than two feet in places. Cars, trucks and double-decker buses now fly past within inches of pedestrians. 

And there is another downside to lack of hedgerow care and maintenance. This particular hedge, with an estimated age of 500 years at least, is collapsing in parts and elsewhere is reduced to almost pure common ivy. 

But back to Brighton and Hove and what started out with initial concerns over the use of chemical herbicides but has stepped up several levels to an exercise in urban rewilding. 

Some residents are completely unconcerned and indeed heartened by all the new weed growth, like Brighton beekeepers sensing more nectar sources for their pollinating insects. Others simply see it all as a big bunch of wild flowers, whether dandelions and daisies and buddleia and ragwort or sycamore seedlings and saplings, which are some of the culprits called out in Brighton by name.

Looking on the bright side, the residents of this south-coast city should think themselves lucky Brighton and Hove is not in the wet and humid tropics, where urban weed growth would surely make this south-coast urban jungle look like a desert. I recall doing some research on amenity weeds in Trinidad only to find a member of the plant family Cucurbitaceae (cucumbers, gourds, pumpkins and melons) growing in the gutter, but which I did not recognise as a wild plant species. It was, in fact, a water-melon growing from a seed, discarded by a passer-by taking lunch on the hoof.

Forestry Journal:

No-one doubts the green ambitions of Brighton and Hove City Council (a unitary authority in East Sussex) or its ruling Green Party. One of its parliamentary constituencies (Brighton Pavilion) has the only Green MP (Caroline Lucas) in the country. 

However, rewilding, whether with weeds on pavements or beavers in rivers, is clearly a question of balance. As much as I like huge clusters of flowers and juicy bunches of berries on hedgerows in spring and autumn, I don’t want to end up under the wheels of a number 13 bus for the privilege.