'Guerrilla' gardening 'bringing together communities'
"Guerrilla gardening" is having a major impact in improving cities, bringing communities together and providing food for people in the UK and globally, research suggests.
The practice, which involves taking over spaces from roadside verges to industrial wasteland to grow plants without permission, is happening across the world in a range of ways and for different reasons, Dr Michael Hardman of the University of Salford said.
And while it is seen in the UK as being the preserve of young radicals, guerilla gardening is actually practised by many different people, from the elderly to students, residents sick of the council not tidying verges or middle class people doing it "for the thrill".
It also has its celebrity supporters, including Bez from the Happy Mondays who is planning a guerrilla orchard off the A6 in Salford.
Dr Hardman, who is presenting a snapshot of guerrilla gardening globally at the Royal Geographical Society's annual international conference in Exeter, said it was not merely small-scale and could have a number of benefits.
It can make areas more beautiful and allow flourishing green spaces in the concrete jungle, while in cities in Africa urban agriculture - frowned on by authorities - can provide a supply of food for people who cannot afford supermarket prices.
Even in the UK there are areas where fruit and vegetables grown in guerrilla gardens are feeding people in very deprived communities.
He said: "People are doing it for beautification reasons, for productive reasons in the African context and in the UK. This is happening in pretty much every country.
In the UK, "there's the kick they get for doing it".
"Middle class people who never break the law do guerrilla gardening for the thrill they get," he said, adding he had seen middle class guerrilla gardeners hiding behind fences and giggling as sirens went past.
Growing plants in places without permission has been going on for centuries, though the modern movement started in New York in the 1970s with people throwing "seed bombs" into alleyways to bring greenery into the city.
Now it is benefiting from the social media revolution, with groups communicating on Facebook and Twitter.
Dr Hardman said: "Guerrilla gardening is often thought of as small scale and quirky, but in actual fact it has lots of huge positives across the UK."
And with cities expanding at a "crazy rate", activities such as guerrilla gardening could help keep people connected to nature, he said.
"It's really important we do have that connection. Through activities like guerrilla gardening we retain that connection, for beautification or food production, and it's also about bringing together communities."
And in the UK, some local authorities are encouraging the practice, though it raises questions over whether that defeats the object, he added.