Patch of Stourbridge Common Taken Over for Growing Potatoes

Monday, April 28th, 2014. 12:17am

Stourbridge Common - Vegatables

An area of Stourbridge Common in Cambridge has been turned into a vegetable patch.

It appears someone has taken over a patch of Stourbridge Common in Cambridge and is using it as vegetable garden. The patch of common land in question is within a disused tree-guard. Someone has has added what looks like anti-rabbit mesh and planted what appear to be potatoes.

If this has been done without the permission of Cambridge City Council I think the council needs to put a stop to it and get those responsible to restore the common to its original state. In the event of refusal to co-operate the council and police should look at the options for prosecution, or if those involved are holders of mooring licenses, the council should take action for breach of their contract.

If we had people digging up the city’s commons at will to plant vegetables we’d soon be in a state of chaos.

I’d like to see more public land in the city used to grow food. I would like to see more public fruit trees, and fruit bushes on the city’s commons and green spaces. I would also like to see community allotments where there is demand for them. These things have got to be introduced democratically and via due process though; we can’t just have people digging up common land and planting potatoes.

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33 comments/updates on “Patch of Stourbridge Common Taken Over for Growing Potatoes

  1. Cab Davidson

    But if this was a disused tree guard, presumably one where the tree had died, isn’t this a really good idea?

    If a tree is to be replanted there, it won’t be until well after the spud harvest. In the mean time this produces a crop and will leave the ground in a good state for putting a tree in next autumn/winter – deeper digging to sow and harvest such a crop is ideal preparation for tree planting.

    This tiny act of guerilla gardening in an already tilled and fenced bit of ground is entirely harmless, creative and helpful. Why complain?

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    As for the tree guards being empty of trees; this is something I’ve raised before:

    1. Cab Davidson

      Tree planting has a failure rate like everything else – it can go wrong. But as its failed, I can’t see any problem at all with growing spuds on that spot until its time to plant more trees – which isn’t until winter.

      A applaud the guerrilla gardener for such a harmless and creative use of space.

  3. Ali Gordon

    As a resident of Chesterton, I use the common on a daily basis. I think this ‘guerrilla’ veg patch is a creative and harmless way to demonstrate how easy it is for people to engage with their environment and the community around them. If anything this sort of activity makes the environment look cared for as opposed to the rather sorry empty delapidated patch that was there. Also isn’t the idea of common land that everyone gets to use it? No harm is being done, it’s enhancing the look of the area at no cost to the public purse I think we should be supporting this type of activity.

    1. anadapter

      It might well be a creative bit of guerilla gardening but I think Richard is right to say it should go through due process. I don’t want people taking it upon themselves to dig up bits of common land without wider public knowledge of it and without permission.

  4. James G

    The problem is caused not by someone planting potatoes, but by the council causing there to be a fenced off area of common land for no purpose i.e. no tree.

  5. Jo

    Really? This is turning into a terrible comedy! How many people would put their own time, money and effort to better the community environment? Whoever this ‘guerilla’ is deserves positive community recognition but instead is being threatened with police action!!! Ludicrous. Whoever this is … well done!!

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      Lots of people have different views on what we should do with our public space; we have a system for deciding what actually happens – our local democracy, elected councillors take decisions on residents’ behalf about what is allowed and what isn’t; and what’s done and what’s not.

      If we didn’t we’d have people digging up swathes of the common to grow vegetables; others planting trees over the whole space, and probably other activities too. If small vegetable patches were permitted where would you stop – would you allow camping? caravans? shacks?

      Should boaters be able to colonise the bank next to their boats? Mow the grass on it; fence it in, use the common for storage?

    1. Cab Davidson

      Richard, we’re not looking at a piece of riverbank or other common ground being taken from public use and access for private use – which is what would be happening if a boater put a fence up around a patch or planted their own trees. It had a fence around it already, it can be re-planted with another tree but NOT until its the right season to do so – it won’t be until winter.

      That means it can either sit barren or, more likely, weedy until then or instead someone could grow something like spuds there. Its not the same as taking common space for their own – its using common space thats already inaccessible and recently dug over.

      To chase this up and require its dug over rather than just allowing it to be harvested is a silly waste of public resources – its doing no harm, and as its got a failed tree in it and a fence around it this sets no precedent for common land being otherwise claimed.

  6. Ali Gordon

    Perhaps I’m missing the point. A piece of land that has been fenced off by the council and left to become derelict by not maintaining a healthy tree. Somebody has come along and used the space thoughtfully and we are writing to get them to return the space to it previous weedy condition.

    I don’t suppose the council has any plans to spend money on planting a new tree. So in all likelihood the space will be left until the fence rots . Come on people this is an example of real community spirit. Applaud it.

    1. Jo

      As a common user and nearby resident of the common, I am not suggesting that those holding moorings should be allowed to dig up the common, plant gardens and put up fences. I do think that we need to exercise some common sense in this matter.

  7. Abi

    Is this becoming The Cambridge Spud-Gate? Are we sure it’s a problem at all? Should we roast the culprit? Boil or mash? I’m only asking.

  8. hannah

    Love it! Creative potato planting in a bit of land that was previously cornered off and simply collecting weeds! Well done to whoever did it, particularly in light of the long allotment waiting lists, plus Pickles threatening to close down existing sites:
    Congrates to the boater who did it! Oh, why are we assuming a boater planted this btw? I’m presuming there is reason for pointing the finger and crediting them with this ingenuity?

  9. Richard Taylor Article author

    At 0750 on Tuesday the 6th of May the patch of potatoes is to be debated on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire:

    A photo suggests the additional fencing has been removed, but the potatoes are still present:

  10. Alex W

    I’d be happy to see more initiatives to re-use our areas of uninispired public planting, by transforming them into more thoughtful displays, be they ornamental or for consumption.

    Cambridge has a world class botanical garden, and a great many green fingered enthusiasts. Lets look at ways of engaging our community, perhaps as volunteers, and improving the aesthetics of the city with creative planting, aswell as growing more food here not there.

    Perhaps the point about democracy is a fair one, but I love to hear of people willing to be a little subversive – particularly when this activity is small scale, fun, possibly educational, and productive overall, not destructive (let’s not forget agriculture like this is ephemeral anyway).

    You are right that, taken to a logical conclusion, it becomes a free for all – and on historic common park land with its own ecology this would be a bad thing. Though in the case of one person, I have the feeling that Cambridge can benefit from the actions of well intentioned individuals (or perhaps eccentrics). Council approval is the most sensible way to proceed usually, but I don’t think this person would have got it for this folly.

    For Cambridge to stifle adhoc, amusing episodes in what can sometimes seem a predictable cultural climate, this would be a mistake. Bristol got a waterslide and is perceived to be a ‘cool’ city. Cambridge you still have a little way to go on that one. Forcing Mr or Mrs Potatoes to dig up the plot perhaps puts us one step backwards on that one.

    1. Suki Sharples

      I’d love it if Cambridge Council would listen to Sarah Raven et a (as other councils have done) l and plant drifts of interesting wild flower mixes along the sides of commons and green, and alongside roads to encourage bees and butterflies – and perhaps save money on formal planting by planting species which will self-seed and provide colour and interest for people through the seasons…

  11. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Friends of Stourbridge Common have issued a statement via their Facebook page:

    …we applaud the ingenuity and the quick thinking but ultimately people can’t just start digging up common land for their own ends …


  12. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Paul Stainton Breakfast show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire received a statement from someone claiming to be the person who’d planted the potatoes.

    Hello there,

    I’ve been listening to the discussion and I’d like to put my side of Stourbridge spudgate

    Earlier in the year I was chatting to people about the idea of planting up the area. I first removed the debris and litter then a couple of weeks later I dug it over, and then planted it up.

    Everytime I’ve been there working on the plot people stop and talk to me.

    It’s been a positive great experience

    Some people warned me it would only be a matter of time before some busy body objected.

    Then I was sent a link to a blog. “Democracy must prevail it said”; it warned of chaos if the potatoes were allowed to remain.

    I’ve been watching reactions.

    [Paul Stainton queries if the gorilla has been hiding in the bushes]

    There’s been quite a lot of: “Oooh what’s that”.

    I regularly clear litter from the common. This little patch adds vibrancy.

    Now the question is will it be chips or will they be allowed to flourish?

    [Rough quote based on listening to the radio]

    Paul Stainton questioned if the show would be inundated with calls from people across Cambridge saying : “I’m spudicus”; “I’m spudicus”; “I’m spudicus”.

  13. Richard Taylor Article author

    The Cambridge News now has the story:

    They have a quote from Cambridge City Council officer Alistair Wilson, the council’s “green space manager” who has said:

    This was done by a river mooring licence holder and it’s a requirement of their licence that they don’t alter or change the river bank in any way.

    We will be writing to them and asking them to remove what they have done, ahead of planting due in the autumn.

    Someone has taken it upon themselves to cultivate this plot of land but we wouldn’t have permitted it anyway in terms of loss of green space.

  14. anne

    What a good idea! Growing a little food on a patch of land that is doing nothing, creating a more pleasant small space for people to take an interest in, doing absolutely no damage other than killing a few untidy weeds, and starting this discussion. Well done that gardener!

    As has been said, there is a shortage of allotment land and any way of producing some local food and being a little more self-supporting can only be a positive thing.


  15. Cris Townley

    Planting these potatoes is such a great idea. I lived in Cambridge for ten years, near the common. I now live in Australia, but am drawn back to visit Cambridge quite often. I love the city, and the space for people to be eccentric, make us think, and be part of creative problem solving of global issues. The world needs more local food production, and kids need to see food at source. I’d recommend a couple of chickens next. Surely those with mooring rights, and others, still have rights to graze chickens on common land?

  16. Richard Taylor Article author

    It appears the potatoes were not all removed by the council and some have now sprouted; either that or some have been planted since the council’s attempt to reinstate the area:

    Sprouting potatoes on Stourbridge Common Cambridge

    Sprouting potatoes on Stourbridge Common Cambridge

    Sprouting potatoes on Stourbridge Common Cambridge

  17. Dave

    I live in Cambridge and would like to see the spuds allowed to grow. If some have been removed it is no great surprise that some have been missed. Can you find me one allotment holder who has grown potatoes and not experienced more sprouting the following year despite extensive digging over of the bed?

    As Anne said on Radio Cambridgeshire, the main point is that allotment provision in the city is woefully inadequate as is witnessed by the lengthy waiting lists most sites have.

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