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Rare flower farm at Knowsley, Liverpool

08:34 16 July 2010

Rare flower farm at Knowsley, Liverpool

Rare flower farm at Knowsley, Liverpool

An urban site was the obvious choice for a wildflower centre, as Paul Mackenzie discovered

The plaque on the wall says the National Wildflower Centre was developed between 1996 and 2000 but the seed was planted much earlier than that.


When he completed his geology and geography studies at university in Liverpool Grant Luscombe had a choice: to use his qualifications in work on the North Sea oil rigs or to change direction.


I wanted something else and I think I made a good choice, he smiles as he gazes across bed after bed of gently bobbing wildflowers.


It started with a conversation in a pub with a couple of mates. We all liked the countryside and so we started the Rural Preservation Association.


It was one of those decisions you make as a student when you have nothing to lose. Im sure my father thought I was nuts but he was good enough not to say so. He did cut out a few job adverts for me, though.


The group became Landlife on its tenth anniversary but while the name has changed, the aim hasnt.


Grant has always been interested in transforming urban areas into oases of beauty - his latest project is on the concrete site of a derelict bubble bath factory in Whitehaven. In that context, the choice of a Liverpool suburb close to junction five of the M62 for the groups base seems only natural.


We want to create new habitats and allow the evolutionary dance to take place, Grant said. Liverpool does seem to many people like an odd place for a wildlife charity to be but we have always wanted to come at this from a different perspective.


Their base in Knowsley was the site of the former home of Robertson Gladstone, Williams brother. Since the hall was demolished in the 1950s, some surviving out-buildings were given new roles - one was a base the Ministry of Agricultures quarantine centre and hosted camels, llamas and other wild animals - while the surrounding parkland became a public space.


Landlife now occupy about four acres of the site and alongside a caf and conference facilities are examples of wildflower planting which visitors could copy at home, whatever size their garden. They have also been responsible for explosions of wildflowers on roadside verges in Warrington and St Helens and on grasslands across the country.


For us its about inspiring people, Grant said. We want to show them what can be done in even small spaces and in different circumstances. We have different gardens set up, including one like a Liverpool back yard and one where the flowers are growing on brick rubble.


In other areas flowers are thriving on beds of recycled clothing, crushed cds and sea shells and Grant added: The whole place looks different throughout the year and from year to year, depending on the conditions.


Man has had such a big hand in causing climate change, I think we should have a big hand in helping save the flora and fauna we have put at risk. We have altered soils so dramatically we need to do something to create the right situation for things to grow.


Climate change is undoubtedly having an effect and I think we need to help wildlife as much as we can. Periods of drought cause plants to die and a loss of food stuff. Before 2006 this place was humming with butterflies, hummingbird hawk moths and bees. Then we had a cold winter and a wet summer and it has taken us three years to get back.


The cold start to this year and the dry spring and early summer set wildlife back about six weeks, flowers were later coming out.


The centre - the first of its kind in an urban setting - is doing its all to help nature along, a pond is fed with rain from the roof, 13 per cent of their electricity is generated by solar panels and it runs workshops to help people be more bee friendly. And their efforts are paying off - there has been a 30 per cent increase in bird species on the site since the centre opened.


They also hold annual events including a scarecrow festival and, on August 8, a flower show which is expected to attract more than 22,000 people.

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