Less than 48 hours after being installed a bee-friendly garden has been removed by corporate advertising company Clear Channel.
The wooden planter was constructed on top of a bus shelter on Cheltenham Road by a group of residents calling themselves Bee the Change. They had intended the act of guerrilla gardening as an entry to the West of England Bee Bold competition.
However, the group were shocked on Monday, July 18 to learn the planter had been taken down.
Bristol City Council and Clear Channel, who are contracted by the council to manage bus shelters across the city, made the decision to remove the garden, citing public health and safety concerns due to the weight of the planter.
Speaking for Bee the Change, Emma said: ‘We’re heartbroken at Clear Channel’s actions. It would be thoughtless at any time but particularly in the middle of the worst heatwave Bristol has ever seen when bee populations are being devastated by heat.
‘Forty one percent of pollinator species are in decline in the UK and Bristol needs to do more. Everyone who saw our bee stop loved it because they understood that it’s just common sense.’
Watching events as they unfolded
Denzil Le Roy, 65, whose house overlooks the bus stop, had a front row seat to the whole saga as it unfolded.
When the activists first appeared in hi-vis vests on Saturday, Denzil assumed they were from the council. After chatting to them, and with the fact they were working at 10pm, he realised they were not official workpeople.
Speaking to The Bristol Activist, Denzil said: ‘It was fun. They were obviously committed people [with] great values. I was impressed.’ So impressed was he that he invited the activists into his home for a glass of wine.
On Monday, with the city wilting in 30-plus degree heat, Denzil took it on himself to water the planter. Nearby businesses let him fill his watering can and passers-by showed interest in and support for the planter.
Denzil said that from his brief interactions with the public, the planter seemed an instant hit. ‘I did see people looking at it from the bus and a couple waved at me while I was watering. They do want it,’ he said.
Later in the day Denzil saw workmen taking the planter down and went to speak with them. The workmen explained they had to do it for safety reasons but, according to Denzil, said they were personally supportive of the planter.
The flowers and disassembled pieces of wood were taken away to a depot in Portbury where Clear Channel say they will be looked after until Bee the Change can collect them.
Given the unofficial nature of its installation, Denzil was not surprised the planter was removed.
‘I can see everyone’s point of view. I can certainly see the activists point of view because it pushes the council to realise that people are getting serious about this.’
Denzil said that being part of the action over the weekend was a lot of fun. ‘It made me an ecowarrior for 36 hours, which I also enjoyed,’ he said with a grin.
What do Clear Channel Say?
A Clear Channel spokesperson said: ‘The bus shelter on Cheltenham Road was not designed to take additional weight on its roof and posed a risk to anyone waiting for a bus. After discussions with Bristol City Council, we jointly decided the best course of action was to remove the plants.
The company say they hope to install their own Living Roof “bee bus stops” in Bristol in the autumn.
The spokesperson said: ‘These shelters are specially designed and tested to take the increased weight and would feature a carefully selected mix of plants to promote biodiversity. If the trial is successful, we will look to roll these out at bus shelter sites across the city.’
This is not the first time Clear Channel have made headlines this year.
The company has been criticised over plans to change 86 existing paper billboards in the city’s bus shelters to digital screens. The new screens will display adverts on rotation via led screens throughout the day.
Adblock Bristol are campaigning against the digital billboards and are encouraging members of the public to submit objections to the planning applications. They say that each digital screen uses as much energy as four average UK homes and point to evidence of the negative impact digital billboards have on people who live nearby.
Veronica, a spokesperson for Adblock Bristol, said: “Clear Channel have destroyed a garden for declining pollinators despite proclaiming to support bees through installing their own bee roofs in other cities.
‘They claim they are acting to protect health and safety, and make grand statements about their environmental record, but at the same time they are trying to install 86 digital billboards in Bristol which harm wellbeing, the climate and local insect populations. Clear Channel’s actions show they have no interest in the desires or health of locals, nature and the planet. All they’re protecting is their profit.’
This small drama that has played out on one bus shelter on Cheltenham Road speaks to deeper questions about who controls what our streets and public spaces look like and who gets a say when it comes to taking climate action.
Bristol City Council did not respond to request for comment prior to publication.
Feature image: Simon Holliday.