Croydon can help to save the rainforest

By - Monday 7th November, 2016

Cities don’t have to exclude nature, let’s bring the rainforest’s vibrant energy to Croydon

Croydon is situated in a temperate region and though it contains a number of woodlands, none of them is in the least tropical. The nearest actual rainforests are more than 3,000 miles away in Central America. Yet, when I see bindweed trying to creep up the hoardings of the new Boxpark, when I see buddleias sprouting from Croydon’s urban rooftops, and our native wildflowers taking over any area of vacant land, I see the same force that drives all the vital green growth of our world, whether it reveals itself in the cactae of the deserts, the bluebells in our native woodlands or the giant kapok tree of the rainforests.

And so it is that whilst during the day I walk the unrelenting streets of Croydon, at night in my dreams I wander in the footsteps of the jaguar under a dense, green canopy. Sometimes, dreams being what they are, the two become muddled, and I might be sitting on top of a Croydon tram, spotting toucans flying through the windows of Croydon’s abandoned office blocks, watching capuchin monkeys pinching bananas from the Surrey Street market, and admiring beautiful orchids growing between the lianas that have draped themselves over the multi-coloured Saffron tower.

Coffee, chocolate, sweetcorn, bananas… we are surrounded by rainforest produce

And in some very tangible ways, there are indeed signs of the rainforests all around us. The chocolate and coffee on our supermarket shelves, the sweetcorn, bananas and pineapples in Surrey Street market, and the pepper with which we season our food, are samples of the variety of foods originating there.

This valuable human larder is under serious threat from many sources: illegal deforestation, the cutting of forests by large companies to grow the ubiquitous palm oil and the destruction of plants by poor peasant farmers using techniques of farming which are longer sustainable. My involvement with a small UK charity that is offering such farmers a more sustainable alternative, thus providing them with a better livelihood and helping preserve the forests has led to my fascination with these incredible habitats.

I’m setting up the first local group of the Rainforest Saver charity right here in Croydon

The charity is called Rainforest Saver and like many other small charities, it faces a constant struggle for funding to support its partners in Honduras, Ecuador and Cameroon. This article is written in the hope that I might find a few other Croydonians who share a similar passion to do what they can to help prevent the destruction of these vital and fascinating places.

I have decided to set up Rainforest Saver’s first ever local group in the urban jungle of Croydon. I would like the group to take on two projects each year, one to help raise funds for poor farmers in desperate need of the simple technology that Rainforest Saver can provide and the other to increase biodiversity or environmental awareness within Croydon itself.

Yet, as in my dreams, I do not see the projects as entirely separate entities. We are all interconnected. If we want poor local people in distant countries to look after their environments, perhaps we will have more credibility if we are also trying to look after our own. I also hope that our little group will also bring some of the exotic colour, vitality and wonder of the rainforests to the grey, litter-strewn streets of Croydon.

Croydon’s crocus farm could be a catalyst for the re-greening of our town

Croydon of course has its own biodiversity, but this tends to be more to do with the variety of different races and cultures that have ended up in our own unique metropolis. Valuable as this is, we seem to have squeezed out so much of our own natural biodiversity.We have lost so much traditional knowledge of the natural world, which brings a fuller connection and communication to the place that we inhabit.

So one of the aims of the Croydon Rainforest Club will be to generate a greater interest and knowledge of our own natural surroundings, and bring back some of the biodiversity that Croydon, like numerous other towns, has lost over the last hundred years.

Cities do not have to exclude nature, and can indeed encourage it. The crocuses, along with other wildflowers. grown at the Croydon saffron farm on Park Lane, should act as a catalyst for re-greening the whole town.

Crazy, joyful activities could help our local environment and raise money for poor farmers

If we allow the rainforests to disappear, we not only lose one of the most useful, precious and beautiful habitats in our world but we also release an enormous amount of carbon into the atmosphere, hastening the dangerous effects of global warming. One of the reasons the charity Rainforest Saver so appeals to me is because it offers the opportunity for poor farmers not only to improve their own livelihoods but to preserve these vital eco-systems on which they, and to some extent we, all depend. The latest newsletter of Rainforest Saver perhaps puts some of our own urban worries, concerns and anxieties into a wider perspective.

One of the ways that I would like the Croydon Rainforest Club to both highlight one of Croydon’s environmental problems and the valuable work of Rainforest Saver is by creating an artificial rainforest in Croydon, made out of the litter on Croydon’s streets, re-used paper and cardboard and unwanted bamboo canes. I intend the first meeting of the Croydon Rainforest Club to discuss how such an art installation might be created as well as what other crazy but joyful activities we might get up to, both to improve our local environment and raise funds to help poor farmers to protect their own rainforests.Together, we could make Croydon the greenest and most bio-diverse borough of London, as well as doing our bit to help protect one of the most vital eco-systems for the continuing wealth and health of our planet.

The first meeting of the Croydon Rainforest Club will take place on Wednesday 7th of December at 7:30pm at Matthews Yard, just off Surrey Street. If anyone would like to get involved but can’t make the first meeting, please . And if anyone knows where I can pick up some unwanted bamboo canes, I’d be delighted to hear from them.

Charles Barber

Charles Barber

Adoptive Croydonian, currently trying to publish a book and find gainful employment within the Croydonian urban jungle. Environmental campaigner, Twitter@rainforestsaver, founder of the Croydon Rainforest Club and of the Friends of Whitehorse Park.

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