Avery Hill Sustainability Trail provides a great insight into the investments the University has made in delivering sustainability. This tour starts and finishes at the Southwood House campus gatehouse although it can be joined elsewhere – for example, from the Sparrows Farm footpath entrance.
The Trail map illustrates key sustainability issues we have addressed. These are colour coded; Green for Biodiversity and Food, Purple for Transport, Blue for Energy and Brown for waste.
The trail can take 30 minutes or a couple of hours, it’s up to you. Take a picnic if its sunny or if its foraging season bring a bag to take away some delicious natural goodies (at your own risk). Remember to use our recycling bins dotted around the campus and avoid littering.
The trail starts at the Southwood site Gatehouse and passes the bus stops (that transport staff and students between our other campuses) you will walk along the edge of Avery Hill Park, once part of Colonel North’s estate. In Victorian times he was one of Britain’s richest men, amassing wealth from the extraction of resources from South America. The riches he made paid for the land and his opulent mansion, the remnants including the Winter Garden, Library and Entrance still surviving at the campus at the top of the park. Along the path, beneath the oak trees you will see a traditionally laid fence. This was laid using methods rarely seen in urban areas. It is invaluable in helping improve the biodiversity of hedges and also providing a pleasant environment to view. Look closely for birds and small rodents along the hedgerow.
At the end of the path continue (taking care of vehicles) and walk to the far end where you will reach another hedge. Here, if you are able and feeling brave leap the small stream, called the River Shuttle. This is spring fed tributary of the River Cray that flows into the Thames Estuary. Ahead you will see a rougher piece of land. This is a meadow that is seeded with wildflowers and left to grow over the summer to attract insects, birds, small mammals. In the summer if it is sunny close your eyes and listen to the amount of life that can be heard hidden in the meadow. It is useful to compare the amount of life you hear with the cut grassland beside the meadow. This provides a great illustration of the importance of creating space for wildlife. This not only improves the biodiversity of the site (bringing in many species including the rare Sparrowhawk and Green Woodpeckers), it also saves us money as we no longer need to mow it every couple of weeks also saving fossil fuels! Now walk between another traditionally laid hedge laid in early 2015 and the stream. The stream has a number of interesting plant species and flows throughout the year (unless its a very dry year).
When you reach the far hedge (another one laid for our Biodiversity Action Plan) turn left and keep to the hedge side. Here after about 80 yards you will pass a pond, home to ducks and moorhens that nest there. If you look to the left on the roof of the student accommodation block you will see part of the photo voltaic array that generates clean, renewable energy throughout the year. These have generated on average 47,000 kWh of electricity per year – the equivalent of driving an electric Nissan Leaf 17 times to Beijing and back saving 41 tonnes of carbon (if that energy was generated from a coal fired power station) per annum.
Continue walking along the hedge edge until you see a poly-tunnel, walk through the gap in the low fence posts. You are now in the university’s Community Edible Gardens. To the left you will see ‘nursery beds’ made out of woven willow switches. These are used for growing on plants such as herbs, rhubarb, strawberries, blackberries and other food plants. When ready to be split off these are replanted in the forest garden.
Take a look into the poly-tunnel, here you will find plants that can be grown on early protected from the cold and the wind and then planted in the raised beds. Other more sensitive plants can be grown to maturity in the poly-tunnel such as exotic fruits and vegetables including chilies, tomatoes, cucumbers etc. This space allows food plants to be grown throughout the year for the garden to remain fully productive.
Leave the poly-tunnel by the same door (closing it if you found it closed). You will pass the first of a series of circular raised beds, the others at the bottom of the bank. These were part of a winning Chelsea Flower Show Garden in 2014, winning a Silver Gilt award for the National Union of Students who donated the raised beds and also many of the exhibited plants to us. Growing on the sunny, south facing bank during the spring and summer are pumpkins and squashes, you may see a fabric covering some of the banks – this helps retain moisture and helps keep the weeds under control.
In the circular, right hand beds you will find a range of different food plants. In the rectangular left hand beds you will see lots of food plants growing throughout the year. For an up-to-date planting guide check this link. If you see anything ripe for harvest then pick them and take them home, remembering to wash before eating. There are no pesticides or herbicides used in the garden. What we grow in the beds is rotated to maximise the natural richness of the soil. Occasionally the beds are topped up with rotted down horse manure and also chicken manure. These no-dig beds have good soil structure and are easy to manage, reducing the amount of weeding and turning of soil that can occur in other growing spaces. Any green waste that is produced is put in the one of the compost heaps across the gravel road. Check out how the compost is doing. You may find peelings and teabags that staff and students bring down to add to our compost system. All of this community garden area is tended to by staff and student volunteers. For more information and if you would like to volunteer then click this link.
Walk along the road or onto the organic chippings amongst the newly planted trees and shrubs. This is our ‘forest garden.’ The plants growing will produce fruits and nuts and follow permaculture principles, which when established will create many different levels where food plants will grow, producing a very productive space that is also diverse in terms of what grows there and the other insects animals and birds that will make the space their home. Over time it will establish into a productive and managed woodland. Check the names and the information boards on or beside the plants to see what is growing there.
Continue walking, on the right hand side between the path and the metal fence you will see a long pond. This rises and lowers in response to the water-table. Look out for frogspawn, tadpoles, frogs, damsel and dragonflies, butterflies and also bees that will drink from the pond. The habitat is quite diverse around this pond and we hope in the coming months to have in place a deck with seating that will look over a deeper pond that will be dug out.
Just beyond the pond you will see some bee hives that during spring and summer will be busy with bees flying to and fro from the hives. If you have an allergy to insect stings stay back and do not disturb any bees. Do not go too close to the hives or block their flight lines otherwise the bees may sting you! The hives are managed by a local apiarist who collects honey which can be bought from the Students Union Village Shop in the Student Village.
Now walk across the field to a group of low trees. This is our orchard, planted with rarer and traditional fruit varieties. This was planted by the Urban Orchard Project and you can eat any fruit if it is ripe (and washed). Return via the forest garden up to the car park, turn right and continue until you see the road turning left alongside a walled garden. At the gateway pop into this garden, which is part of the old Southwood House. There are places to sit down amongst interesting plantings (you will also see some more bee hives here). When you are ready leave the garden via the gate turn right and you will walk in the same direction back to the Gatehouse where the tour ends. If you have used a laminated guide then please return it to the Gatehouse for future reuse.