The Guardian view on Manchester’s ‘wild city’ gardeners: let’s grow together | Editorial

Ten years ago, the council stood on a soapbox proclaiming that the grassy areas beside Manchester’s busy railways were a “green meadow” and so did not need to be manicured, leaving an area of grass an urban piece of open space. The government has now said that any area there requires regulation.

The kerbs near Manchester train station, which keep footfall flowing, are often covered in loose grass. The prevalence of dangerous dog fouling is being noticed and community groups are having to manage it on the grounds, and by litter-picking all the time. So people must watch out and not allow their dog to run free among the hazards.

Seeing that it was recognised that the grass around railway stations, shopping centres and residential streets needed some control, there was a community gardening scheme to address some of the most verdant areas in the city centre. A few schemes came and went.

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Then, in 2017, a row broke out over the placement of a noxious parsnip crop behind the Old Trafford football stadium. It was better known then as “persevering parsnip” because it is made of cotton plant, parsnip and grain. Until it reached a point where its roots snapped and it took hold, it was known by the scientific name of “corn parsnip”. According to a university investigation, it formed a “source of much of the disease-carrying scab fungus” that passes to oak trees and grassland across the country.

The research was so convincing that some local councillors backed the urban wilds. That was 15 years after the local authority made a similar statement about the whole area. The town hall found that destroying the plant sent out a clear signal about its authority. Many others were beginning to doubt that their towns were actually wild.

The owners of the plastic pots are, however, continuing to produce the plants, although council waste disposal rules, the need to keep public gardens green and their popularity for sale have helped to slow down the process. Planting healthy wild flowers is a good way to spread biological diversity, not to mention the nutrients needed for urban landscapes, and it is sensible to allow free rein in certain areas, to further introduce a sense of “wildness”.

The local authorities’ successors, with politicians’ notice not under threat, are looking at how to restore the city’s wildness and are, as a result, bringing the groups together.

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