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Feeding guerrillas in the city; safe stomping grounds or uncaging elements of risks?

11 March 2014, 11am: Free
at the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen AB15 8QH
for scientists, students and other interested parties

This seminar "Feeding guerrillas in the city; safe stomping grounds or uncaging elements of risks?will be given by Dr Michael Hardman, University of Salford and Professor Andrew Hursthouse, University of the West of Scotland, at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen. It will be broadcast live to the Dundee site.


There has been a recent resurgence in the demand for allotment plots, allowing personal or community food growing for urban dwellers. Allotment cultivation has become concentrated in the industrialised and most densely populated areas, and such is the desire to grow our own that, despite the statutory obligation on local authorities to provide allotments where there is a demand, there are still very few sites being created each year and demands outstrips supply. Therefore, apart from intensively managed municipal green spaces and organised allotment plots, areas of usable urban spaces are limited to discrete and scattered patches of inaccessible brownfield land, often stalled in transitional planning and with no visible use or development in sight.

Emerging cohorts are cultivating these stalled spaces without seeking permission; they are often referred to as guerrilla gardeners. These groups typically utilise old industrial or brownfield sites, roadsides and verges to create their own city agricultural spaces. The natural resources (that is, soils and waters) to support food growing available at these locations can be contaminated with a wide range of potentially toxic elements (PTEs), such as heavy metals, and/or compounds derived from industrial processing, waste disposal, fuel combustion, road salts and mechanical fluids. As the basis for food production, these resources present inherent risks if contaminants are metabolised into crops and eaten by humans. Several studies have examined these risk pathways in organised allotment plots, across the UK and throughout Europe, but there is little if any information on the risks of cultivating urban land informally, by guerrilla gardeners.

In this seminar natural and social sciences merge to provide foresight into the elements of risk facing the clandestine cropper. Professor Andrew Hursthouse will present research on the prevalence of PTEs in the soils of allotment plots, discussing the implications for risk and human health, before Dr Michael Hardman presents an evaluation of the behaviours, motivations and impacts of guerrilla gardeners. The seminar will ask questions such as; to what extent do guerrilla gardening cohorts perceive potential risks of cultivating old industrial land? Is their motivation primarily food based, or as a reaction to planning barriers, and thus how much of the food produce grown is actually consumed? And, how do their motivations differ from those cultivating organised allotment plots? It promises to be a fascinating and thought provoking seminar.


Dr Michael Hardman is a lecturer in geography, specialising in urban spatial planning at University of Salford with a core focus around food security, particularly attempts to introduce agricultural activity into cities. Besides academic projects, Mike also works alongside local authorities and organisations to evaluate and improve these initiatives. He is also a keen follower and investigator of guerrilla gardening movements and an active member of EU COST action Urban Agriculture Europe.

Professor Andrew Hursthouse is Head of Physical Sciences and Professor of Environmental Geochemistry at University of the West of Scotland. Andrew applies an earth-systems approach to research which covers the transport/behaviour of pollutants in the environment (air quality, land degradation and remediation, and aquatic biogeochemistry), evaluating the impact on ecosystems and for human health. Andrew has a keen interest in urban ecosystems and their soils and these studies have links to policy and knowledge transfer activities which have been focused on the role and evolution of environmental management tools.

The seminar is being hosted by Dr Luke Beesley.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.