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Celebrating Queen Mary’s commitment to biodiversity and sustainability on our campuses

As the COP26 conference comes to an end, we take the opportunity to reflect on how our Queen Mary campuses have changed over the past year to become more biodiverse places to study and work. 

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Staff and students have been contributing to making Queen Mary campuses more sustainable and biodiverse places in the past year. Not only have we been able to enjoy some newly created green spaces on our campuses, we’ve also been able to take part in workshops and events - such as bird house building, foraging walks and canal cleans - as well as embedding sustainable working practices.

Our Mile End campus has seen significant changes with the planting of wildflower meadows, tree and flower bulb plantings, and the creation of new biodiverse green spaces such as the garden in Geography Square and the community allotment at Maurice Court.

Our community allotment is a particular success story with vegetables grown by students and staff appearing in dishes on the menu in The Curve Restaurant. Recently, Tower Hamlets Council hosted a dinner at Queen Mary in which 70% of the vegetables served had been grown at our allotment. Students and staff have been volunteering to tend the organically grown crops, which have included peppers, chillies, tomatoes, figs, cucumbers, salad leaves, plums, and beetroot.

Practical workshops on sustainability have been popular with both staff and students throughout the past year. There were several canal clean up sessions, the next being planned for next Tuesday, 16 November at 2pm. These are a great opportunity to keep our local area clean from litter, allowing local plants and wildlife to flourish. Queen Mary’s Sustainability Week in late October featured a foraging walk, where participants learnt about the different plants that can be used in food and drink – plants such as hibiscus and mint can be made into tea, while sloes, hawthorns, rosehips, mint, bay, and horseradish were all found on our campus.

Looking after our wildlife has been really important, with our students getting involved in workshops to build hedgehog houses, bug hotels and birdboxes. In order to preserve local wildlife, Queen Mary took the decision to stop using pesticides, and this is now written into our sustainable development policy. By changing our practices, such as reducing bedding planting and using more perennial planting together with planting two wildflower meadows, not only have the campuses become greener: they have allowed nature to flourish.

Almost 70 trees have been planted on our campuses in the past 18 months. Not only do we have a campus orchard, we also have contributed to preserving one of Britain’s rarest trees, the Black Poplar, to support Tower Hamlets’ Local Biodiversity Action Plan. In order to mark the community efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic, fruit trees were planted on three of our campuses - by the John Vane Science Centre at Charterhouse Square, in the courtyard of Floyer House at Whitechapel, and in the Sensory Garden at Mile End.

As we look back on the significant developments in sustainable and biodiverse practices at Queen Mary, we can also celebrate our continuing commitment to our environmental responsibility. The international Campus as Lab project which was spearheaded by the School of Geography’s Professor Kate Heppell and Professor Lisa Belyea, along with Grounds and Gardens Supervisor Dimi Sopisz, has expanded into the Queen Mary Living Lab project, one of the projects selected for Westfield Funding by the Queen Mary Academy this year.

Thank you to everyone who has worked hard to make Queen Mary a greener, more biodiverse and sustainable place!