On a warm Sunday in November I set off on a mission to find a hidden treasure, the Brighton Greenway.
As I arrive I spot Elspeth Broady, co-founder of Friends of Brighton Greenway, hacking away at a troublesome branch.
Eco-campaigner Elspeth founded the voluntary group in 2015 with Prestonville Residents’ Association after concerns about an area of land that had ‘fallen off the public radar’.
Although the Greenway has been protected since 1995 and is a designated Local Wildlife Site, Elspeth explains it ‘became part of the public realm just at the point of cutbacks’.
However, the pedestrian and cycle way leading from New England Road to Brighton Station is a vital wildlife corridor connecting wild habitats across the city to the South Downs.
John Patmore, biodiversity advisor for FOBG, said: “There’s a wildlife space running all the way down from Withdean to here – butterflies, birds, bats, small mammals.”
Just as he says this, a bee visits a purple flower – Common Mallow – which John informs me was: “Grown from seed packets sent through from the Weald Meadow Project, that’s biodiversity right there.”
First landscaped by Brighton and Hove City Council in 2004, Brighton Greenway was part of a larger urban regeneration project. But it’s fallen to the care of FOBG volunteers in recent years.
Ross Gilbert, managing director of QED which is responsible for the Eco-houses that back onto the Greenway, said: “Our planet needs more groups like the Friends of Brighton Greenway to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in.
“Hats off to Elspeth et al for all the hard work and dedication.”
As we talk Grant Gee, documentary filmmaker and FOBG volunteer, suddenly appears with a supermarket trolley he found on the New England Embankment, it makes a perfect urban wheelbarrow.
He’s lived in the London Road area for 20 years, and has volunteered for the last three: “It’s the only bit of public green space that’s been built in Brighton – ever – I think.”
There is much work to be done maintaining the site during the winter months, cutting back ‘the big three’ – thistle, dock and nettle – to give space to the wildflower meadow they are cultivating.
Poppies, cornflowers and field marigolds have been sown, and on the west side, more ornamental planting such as dogwood and hazel.
Buddleia thrives here, a favourite with butterflies.
James Newmarch, landscape architect for FOBG, is raking and cutting as he talks: “The aim of all this is connectivity, this piece of land is diverse in its own right.
Nothing rare, but starlings, sparrows, slow worms.”
Elspeth is a wonderful advocate for the regeneration of this quarter: “You’ve got to get people coming through so people care about the space. At the moment it’s a grotty little space, the New England Quarter hasn’t realised its ecological potential.”
Now the volunteers have cleared away the overgrowth, some of the original nineteenth-century architecture can be seen.
Brighton Greenway follows the disused Victorian railway track, where locomotives once ran on the London Brighton and South Coast Railway.
Local artist Jon Mills, maker of the Jenny Lind ‘Ghost Train’ over the New England Road viaduct, has made several sculptures for Brighton Greenway. They hang along the path, huge forge and garden tools, celebrating the area’s industrial heritage.
As Elspeth puts it: “This is real, it’s not all pretty, pretty regency terraces. This is the other side of Victorian Brighton. This is its industry.”
The Brighton Locomotive Works closed in 1958 and factory buildings were briefly taken over by the Isetta Company who assembled the Italian-designed ‘bubble car’ in the early sixties, closing in 1964.
Since then Elspeth tells me, the site has largely been left derelict, despite efforts to regenerate the New England Quarter: “The whole area lost its identity in the 90s, Brighton and Hove City Council wanted to build a megastore with vehicle access.”
This was unpopular with residents and a compromise for a new green housing development and a smaller Sainsbury’s supermarket was found.
However, the ‘green dream’ was not all it should be though and today the recycling chutes are overflowing with rubbish. The council have helped light the paths but there’s much more to be done to make this area a safe public space.
Clifford Kelly, who lives in nearby flats and regularly walks his dog Thallulah along Brighton Greenway, said: “I’d like it to be a bit more secure. You get a hell of a lot of drunk people. Better lighting would definitely help.”
The volunteers constantly pick up litter and Elspeth is dedicated to the task, her kit bag includes gloves and a sharps box: “I’m interested and concerned because it’s an unloved area of Brighton isn’t it? And it deserves to be loved.”
If you would like to volunteer with Friends of Brighton Greenway, check out the dates for upcoming workdays at www.brightongreenway.uk