Vanya Marks of Wanstead Climate Action laments the area’s lost front gardens to driveways, but cites this positive example on Felstead Road. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson
Confession time: six years ago, when my partner and I moved into our current house and couldn’t park anywhere near it, we removed the patch of grass that was our front garden and put in a small driveway. The guilt I have felt since has been profound. I could have used this space to plant a tiny wild flower meadow, a couple of fruit trees or gorgeous perennials to keep the bees and bugs happy. Now, I sit staring at the back of our car worrying about declining insect numbers.
You see the problem isn’t just our driveway. Everywhere I look, the good people of Wanstead are ripping out their vibrant front gardens and installing vast swathes of concrete that could accommodate eight or nine, even 10 cars. From the perspective of UK wildlife (the State of Nature report says that one in 10 UK wildlife species faces extinction), this is a devastating trend. But quite apart from that, the appearance of Wanstead is changing.
When we first came to this pretty little pocket of London in 2009, the streets were blooming with trees and flowers. Cute cottage gardens all around the village, roses, wisteria and tendrils of ivy spilling over hedges, splashes of blossom and petals perfuming the air. It wasn’t just our splendid street trees providing this colour and scent and life and shade; it was our front gardens.
Now, I walk around Wanstead and see soulless car parks devoid of life. Birdsong has ceased, the buzzing of bees replaced by the roar of digging machines. It’s little wonder that, according to another study, the UK has lost 60% of its flying insects in the past 20 years. This is terrifying for many reasons: without pollinators, we will have food shortages; without insects, we lose the animals that rely on them as food; without invertebrates that recycle nutrients, our soil will degrade. In other words, they are essential for the proper functioning of all ecosystems. Our gardens, front and back, provide much-needed sanctuary as these creatures are battered on all sides by industrial-scale pesticides, loss of habitat and climate change.
While the Wanstead Community Gardeners do a stellar job adding colour to our streets all year round, and Redbridge Council helps with schemes like tree pit adoption and ‘pollinator pathways’, some homeowners, landlords and developers seem bent on destroying every living thing in sight. Is it a desire for ‘tidiness’? A need to park a whole fleet of cars? Well, no offence meant to anyone from Ilford, but if we keep on replacing front gardens with concrete, we will end up with the barren grey streets of our neighbouring postcode. People of Wanstead, if you don’t do it for the insects and birds, please do it for your house prices!
And if you must put in a driveway, consider an eco-friendly option such as the one pictured here on Felstead Road. Four strips of paving allow for the wheels of two cars, but keep space for a fabulous mix of easy-to-maintain perennials and pollinator-loving wild flowers.
For more information on Wanstead Climate Action, visit wnstd.com/climate