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www.feedleeds.org

SHCA
13 Ash Grove, Leeds LS6 1AX


Dear Dawn


Re String o' Beads and The Leeds Edible Campus.


Thank you for your letter. I was very disappointed to receive it, not least because it suggests a number of
major misunderstandings.

Apologies for the delay in replying. I was initially waiting to hear what Cllr Dobson would say (because I'd
heard that your group had contacted him, but was not permitted an opportunity to meet him myself on the
matter), and then, following his decision, for the return from holidays of key members of our group.

Prior to the arrival of your letter I was under the impression that I had been invited by your chair to explain
properly to your group what we're doing, and had been looking forward to this opportunity.

I would certainly have appreciated a chance to clarify that it was the potential String o' Beads chain of 'pocket'
forest garden sites which were then being assessed, (in academic terms only at that point - as they now
remain), not the pre-existing Leeds Edible Campus - to which the String could have become an addition if
approved by all relevant stakeholders.

The Edible Campus is a much larger concept created in May 2013 following a suggestion by Pam Warhurst of
Incredible Edible Todmorden. Naturally the project mainly covers the two university campuses, but the Moor
was included because it's widely used by students, (both universities have allotments there) and being already
home to a number of pollinator and edible projects was ideal as a research site.

Both Feed Leeds and the Parks Forum have an interest in exploring ways in which urban parks can be made
more productive and sustainable on behalf of both citizens and the environment, without undue compromise to
historic and traditional functionalities. Last year Parks (the originators of both groups) opened the gates to
growers at a large number of Leeds parks, including Woodhouse Moor. This raised a number of questions
which we at Leeds Met/Beckett were keen to research - in the context of productive green infrastructure
corridors which reach from the countryside into the heart of cities (my own area of interest). The Moor's history
and location as a node linking the Meanwood and Aire Valley corridors, along with ecological connectivity
through the two campuses into the city centre, make it uniquely ideal for study.

Today the Edible Campus has two chief functions: One is to celebrate existing pollinator and edible planting in
the area (as a means of promoting public understanding of the value of both), and the other is to publish
research and ideas mainly from our Landscape Architecture post-grads, which explore what might theoretically
be possible in future, (such as Temporary Farms and Productive Roof Gardens), but which are not actively
being proposed for the Moor. This element is purely academic - though there is no reason why schemes
should not be taken forward by stakeholder groups, locally or in other similar parks, following further work as
required, if they see the merit and can secure the necessary resources and permissions.

String o' Beads is just one such project - but because it was born of suggestions that came, by coincidence,
simultaneously from both Parks and Buglife, and which soon attracted support from a large number of local
stakeholders and also funding from Kew Gardens and the NUS among others, it did have at least the potential
to be taken forward to become the first scheme specifically created as an Edible Campus initiative.

The plan was to engage with local groups before submitting anything approaching an actual proposal to Parks
(without whose permission and support nothing could have progressed in any event), and this we had started
to do.
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But sadly in spite of our best attempts we had not been able to reach your group effectively. This is a great
shame, because I'm confident that your Association would, once you understood it, not only support what we
were hoping to achieve, but be keen to play an active role for the benefit of local people - and the city in
general.

I have to take your letter at face value and assume there are no other reasons for your opposition. In it you say
that 'Woodhouse Moor is a historic Victorian park (which it's hoped eventually to make a Heritage Park) and
we feel it would not be appropriate to encroach on or change the features of it.'

I entirely endorse and support the values behind this statement, but fear that your group has misconstrued
both what was being discussed, and the methodology being employed.

As you will see below, String o' Beads, if designed with due sensitivity and care, needed neither encroach
upon nor change any features of the Moor in any way that would have compromised future inclusion in the
Register of Historic Parks and Gardens - or even full historic restoration, which I understand may also be
under consideration.

I can well see how confusion might have arisen. This being by definition a collaborative process, ideas (which
we always encourage on principle) were placed on the table which might well appear at first glance to conflict
with the aims of your group or the personal preferences of some of your members. But in projects like this,
ideas are seldom taken forward to installation as originally suggested, and many (even all, sometimes) are
dropped for one good reason or another. The registration of concerns and obstacles, the investigation of
conflicts, and the systemic filtration of possibilities are as much part of the participatory design process as the
collection of ideas - but it is surprising how much can be achieved to universal satisfaction if all concerned
enter into the exercise with open minds.

If there was in fact a major conflict between the stated aspirations of your group and the installation of small
wild flower patches or a few fruit trees, (which is what we were largely discussing here), then the process
would, perforce, rule these out. But I am confident, having checked with English Heritage, that our group's
suggestions, once filtered though the collaborative system we are employing, would not have ruled out
Registration, or even full restoration.

This is from an email responding to my request for advice about the impact of the growing of edible and/or
pollinator plants in parks on potential qualification:

"The Register of Parks & Gardens is concerned with the more structural design elements in the landscape
such as landform, built structures, walks and rides, water features, structural shrubberies, arboreta, hedges
and trees, and not the more ephemeral, shorter-lived plantings of herbaceous perennials, annuals, roses, and
most shrubs... In summary, it's not what is planted that is the key consideration, but how (i.e. what is the scale
of new planting, is it being planted in new or original beds, what impact does it have on the original landscape
and design of the park or garden etc.)"

All that was under discussion for the String was the promotion of pollinator migration (i.e. increased nest sites
and nectar provision) and low-level foraging (as I know is already enjoyed by a few locals) in small pockets in
association with suitable existing planting - specifically avoiding historic annual beds because we had heard
that your group were opposed to any alteration there (although of course it's perfectly possible to recreate
Victorian displays with edible species if you want to).

As you mention, there is an urgent need to develop people's awareness of edible plants and fruits, and we
also have a major crisis on our hands in terms of bee and other pollinator health. Exactly where the balance
should be struck for the benefit of all users of the park - including insects - is a matter for open and informed
debate, as I hope your group would agree.

Urban parks are, of course, an entirely artificial construct that have surprisingly low biodiversity per se, and,
like all landscapes, they change over time in response to changes in the environment around them - as
indeed they should.

If there was ever a future agreement by all relevant stakeholders for progression towards Registration or
restoration, then a number of current features might need to be removed. Much has, of course, changed since
1857.

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But small patches of (beautiful and colourful) wildflowers in suitable corners, edible bushes inter-planted
between similar existing shrubs, or fruit trees within existing stands (probably by substitution when new
planting became necessary for maintenance) - as under discussion for the String, need not be an obstacle if
sympathetically introduced. And nor, in fact, need new perennial or annual beds, if installed by universal
agreement, because they would be easy to remove and re-grass should that be felt necessary in future.

After all, the Moor was largely made over to allotments during WWII, yet was easily restored to sward once the
emergency was over. (And of course, we may see such an emergency again, if our food system comes under
stress from climate or economic pressures).

It is a great shame that we've not been able to discuss this properly, as we have here, or perhaps I should say
'had' here, an opportunity to create something truly innovative: An historic park with its core functions and
features intact and protected, which managed to look forwards as much as backwards - a park actively
managed for the benefit of insects and a population divorced from the natural origins of food, which
encouraged new, healthy community uses for the park, while still delivering all the traditional amenity,
recreational and conservational facilities required by city dwellers. This would have been a credit to Leeds and
all the groups involved - not least the SHCA.

Thank you for your offer to help us to find other sites in the area. We are of course already aware of many, and
some of these are being actively developed through one means or another by groups associated with Feed
Leeds. Unfortunately, however, these peripheral sites cannot be part of the String o' Beads concept, by
definition. The funding we were offered was for an ecologically-connected string of pocket sites linking the two
existing forest gardens at Bedford Fields and the Sustainable Garden (a logical concept that most people 'get'
straight away), which would perforce have had to cross the Moor which lies between.

There remains, of course, the problem of what to do with the decommissioned bowling greens. These are
large enough to merit consideration as projects in their own right, beyond the String o' Beads concept, but we
were keen to explore the possibilities within the String if practicable, as they are ideally placed in ecological
terms, and so could have been funded by the String budget. We were also asked by Parks for ideas, so our
group had been working on approaches which could maintain the key physical characteristics (as required for
potential Registration), while meeting the funding criteria for String o' Beads, but with innovative and
noteworthy designs suitable for a public park; (think Burle Marx-inspired low-level and largely green wild-
flower/edible gardens, with subtle references to former use included).

The next stage should have been a participatory design exercise involving local community groups, before any
approved and adapted plots (it was always likely that only a few of the less controversial target sites would
ever be actively pursued, as our statements have stressed from the outset) were worked up into a draft
proposals, with further consultation and development then following, in an evolutionary, organic and above all
democratic process.

Now it would seem that the entire initiative has been ruled out as a result of your appeal to Cllr Dobson, but
without any opportunity given for us to clarify our position, take on board your concerns, or seek alternative
ways forward together. This is a great shame in my opinion, and, I think, a wonderful opportunity lost.

I would like to hope that SHCA might yet reconsider its position, but recognise that the moment may very well
have passed.

Yours sincerely



Tom Bliss
Leeds Beckett University Landscape Architecture Tutor and Feed Leeds / Leeds Edible Campus co-ordinator. bliss@dircon.co.uk