Afternoon Dust


Near where I live in central Birmingham, there’s a patch of waste ground, maybe 150m square, surrounded by a metal fence. Left untouched by developers, tall grasses and shrubs have flourished, and magpies and other birds can often be seen hopping about looking for insects to munch. Here, in late summer, the constant drone of crickets drowns out the traffic on the main road a stone’s throw away; the autumn sunsets, unobstructed by tall buildings, are spectacular. A wide variety of rubbish has accumulated on the east side of the fence, including an empty suitcase and bottles and cans of all descriptions.

I remember reading recently that wildlife is thriving in Chernobyl after thirty years of human absence, and it strikes me that our cities are punctuated by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of mini-Chernobyls — not apocalyptic landscapes bleached bare by radiation, but little fragments of environment gone feral amidst the car parks and warehouses and residential developments, ignored and overlooked by JCBs and steamrollers. Here, other kinds of life, unplanned and unmanaged, sprout and multiply exponentially.

Since the above photograph was taken a month ago, a gate has been installed in the fence, and a large stretch of greenery has been removed, including perhaps the foreground third of the image. This is presumably the prelude to the waste ground’s conversion into productive real estate. In 50-100 years, it will be waste ground again.