Blue Finger Project. Use new home-grown policy to protect the Blue Finger and start creating a resilient and healthy food future.

The Idea:

A change in Bristol's land-use policy to safeguard and enable long term food growing on Blue Finger land. The 'Blue Finger' is an area of mostly rare Grade 1 agricultural land in north Bristol/South Gloucestershire with high natural fertility. It used to be Bristol's Market Garden Quarter and while still mostly configured as smallholdings is, in large part, unproductive due to past economic challenges of small scale production when industrial scale took over. The context has changed dramatically now. Local food provides many answers to the problems of food security, wellbeing, health, purpose, poverty, social cohesion and employment and there is a rapidly growing demand for local produce. The Blue Finger is Bristol's best soil asset. What is done with this land is symbolic of Bristol's committment to being a green capital and it's ability to do the very best with the assets it is fortunate enough to have.


The problem:

Council policy currently supports building a Park & Ride car park on this land at some future point and wants to safeguard the land for that purpose, doing away with it's natural food growing potential. Transport planning must be undertaken in ways which do not undermine future resilience. Exchanging premium soil for tarmac will blight Bristol's reputation and undermine rather than build future resilience. This is why policy change is necessary.

How this idea fits Ideas Lab criteria:

To adopt policy to protect food growing land in this way does not need to be limited to the Blue FInger, this is just the beginning. This kind of home-grown policy would be groundbreaking in the UK and it is entirely achievable. It is a simple idea that has the potential to be transformatory in our city, region and country and is transferable to any other place where there is policy-led development and there are people who eat. To withdraw the Park&Ride safeguard would mean this prime food-growing land can be put to good use straight away rather than leaving it without use or investment for a decade. It would save the Council/Gov't from wasting millions of tax payers pounds on hastily and poorly thought through car infrastructure which will, for numberous reasons, blight the communities it is intended to serve. 

The Council is well aware of this situation and is in a good position to act now before the Local Plan policy is set in stone in 2014. 

You're in good company!

Such a policy change, to protect our best food growing land, is currently supported by hundreds of individuals and organisations including the four West of England authorities (via their Duty to Co-operate schedule), local growers, farmers and horticulturalists, educators and trainers, local communities, national organisations including the Soil Association and CPRE, food businesses, the Assistant Mayor and other parts of Bristol City Council including Bristol Creen Capital partnership team, the members of The Bristol Food Policy Council, Bristol Food Network and members of the Sustainable Food Cities Network. To adopt a change in policy as suggested here would be cause for huge celebration in Green Capital year 2015 which is also International Year of Soils!

The multiple positive impacts of a simple change.

Such a policy change must be designed to enable different models of resilient urban food production to flourish, kickstarting long term growth in agriculture-related training, education and employment. To ensure we can feed ourselves into the future we first need to learn how to do it from those who know. Beacon Lane Starter Farm is a prime example of this. They have deliberately chosen Blue Finger land because of it's exceptional fertility and accessibility. The policy context must exist to enable initiatives like this to thrive.

Blue Finger growing will be looking at achieving high productivity through high natural soil fertility. The natural quality of the soil provides growers and consumers with a built-in advantage both in the nutritional content of the food and an increased likelihood of successful harvests every year, even in a changing or volatile climate. The frontiers of soil science show that soil health and fertility is the key to future food security. The Blue Finger therefore can be a showcase for what is possible when this knowledge is heeded and practices enhance the natural 'bio-functions' of soil.  

The location in north Bristol / South Gloucestershire means easy access to and for local buyers, high visibility, high levels of public participation, opportunities for non-fossil fuel based transportation and opportunities for successful cross-border collaboration. 


Policy change itself has no capital cost. Council owned land can be made available for growing projects as in the case of Feed Bristol. Other plots may be bought through crowdfunding as in the case of Beacon Lane and private investors are interested in buying land for sustainable agriculture.

Funding will be necessary for research and feasibility and for installing infrastructure and facilitiesThis can be done on a project by project basis with support from a range of different sources.

What is critical is that local government is consistent in giving political and administrative support to this activity on the Blue Finger and elsewhere in the city, and across the West of England region on which the city will so greatly rely for future food supply.


Why the contribution is important

Bristol is a hungry city. It must lead the way in creating a strong local food economy across the city and the West of England region. This cannot be done while food growing land remains vulnerable nor while there is a lack of commitment to urban food production.

Safeguarding land for food and upscaling food production are two of the key components of the Bristol Good Food Plan (Launched Dec 2013). This plan is rooted in solid understanding and evidence of how a resilient food system works. Protecting the Blue Finger for food growing would be clear statement of commitment to realising the Good Food Plan in accordance with its whole system approach, as growing on the Blue Finger will have innumerable spin-off benefits to the system as a whole.

Future food security for Bristol is a policy issue. Policies need to be built into the system now if we are to start creating a productive urban agriculture sector across the West of England to sustain our health, wellbeing and basic nutritional needs in an uncertain future. 

And lastly, Bristol is European Green Capital 2015. It is a member of the 100 Resilient Cities Network of the Rockefeller Foundation, it is a member of the UK Sustainable Food Cities Network, and it has a Food Policy Council and a Good Food Plan. So why would the Council rather put food growing land under tarmac? What does all this stand for if it has no bearing on Council policy and the decisions that follow about how we use our land and feed ourselves? 

by user932309 on December 18, 2013 at 02:02PM

Current Rating

Average rating: 4.5
Based on: 73 votes


  • Posted by user502461 December 19, 2013 at 05:07

    A top idea - this costs nothing and potentially contributes to the life and future Bristol and Bristolians in lots of ways. An idea whose time has come?
  • Posted by user143123 December 19, 2013 at 05:46

    Grow Bristols Green credentials, keep the Blue Finger a fertile resource for future hungry mouths.
  • Posted by user778318 December 19, 2013 at 08:57

    This is a fantastic proposal and outlines a vitally important move for the council to help realise the aims of the Green Capital project and secure a more sustainable future for the city
  • Posted by user675375 December 19, 2013 at 10:44

    It is important that George, and others who examine this and other ideas, do not see support of this idea as implying a lack of support for solving the transport problems of the northern perimeter of Bristol.

    Rather, it represents instead the recognition that Park&Ride is a forever decision - there is no undo button. How many examples are there in the world of carparks being restored to full agricultural production? It is simply not possible to recreate fertile topsoil.

    Yet it is much more easy to conceive of the possibility of either a) new transport technologies (high and low) or b) population behaviour change coming along one day to invalidate a 21C Park&Ride decision.

    And it would be an irony indeed if a future drop in demand for a P&R came about because of a population crash caused by future food shortages. Disease, war and climate change have all happened before - more than once - and in a crowded small island heavily dependent on other countries' land for our food production, we should chew on this.

    A future conflict that denies us food imports is at least as plausible a possibility as undoing a carpark. Think LONG TERM, George.
  • Posted by user412750 December 19, 2013 at 11:13

    It is insanity to attempt to solve one environmental problem (congestion, air pollution) by sacrificing good environmental practice elsewhere (locally produced sustainable food). This rare Blue Finger land must not be concreted over. Instead, the area used for cultivation should be enhanced, allowing more people to grow their own food. Local, sustainably produced food is an environmental but also a social good, as it integrates people from many different backgrounds. The cultivation of food also provides escape and relief from modern stresses, as well as protection from ever-rising food bills as it is inexpensive to grow your own food. Further, enhancement of this Blue Finger area should be carried out with enhancement of biodiversity at its core. Pollinating insects are vital and fundamental to successful crops, and therefore the ecological value of this land should be enhanced. This should be done by planting the infrastructure (e.g. native trees such as goat willow, hawthorn, hazel, elder, and fruit trees)which will sustain pollinating insects and thus the food web above them. As Europe's Green City 2015 it is unquestionable that the city's biodiversity should be protected and enhanced, to the benefit of us all, not least in food production.
    The Blue Finger land must not be sacrificed and destroyed forever.
  • Posted by user338616 December 19, 2013 at 13:07

    In my opinion and through experience local' green' food is outrageously expensive, in comparison to whats on offer at local supermarkets.
    Who will cultivate this land? The heavily subsidised farmers?
    I live in Almondsbury and would value living in a more sustainable way, but i also travel to the city by car at the moment and would also value an alternative transport system.
    This sounds like a nimby to me.
  • Posted by user779958 December 19, 2013 at 15:44

    It's vital that this land is kept for growing food for Bristol. This is a fantastic idea and could really be a fantastic model for other cities. The transport issues can be solved in so many other ways that are far more forward thinking and less impacting on growing space.
  • Posted by user356171 December 19, 2013 at 17:44

    Excellent idea. I very strongly support the use of the bluefinger land for urban agriculture. I live the other side of town so I, for one, am very definitely NOT a nimby! What a silly comment by Demahoney who is presumably buying their 'local organic' outrageously expensive veg in a supermarket who, I agree, put outlandish margins on their organic produce. I recommend a small greengrocer or, dare I say it, growing it yourself!
  • Posted by user219099 December 20, 2013 at 11:48

    Vital idea for the city!
  • Posted by user527850 December 20, 2013 at 12:35

    A vital idea this, sustenance being a key element of human existence and the provision of high quality, locally sourced produce should be a high priority goal globally. It is so important to preserve what good topsoil we have left, whilst at the same time trying to build up fertility again and move away from the excessive use of NPK fertilisers towards a more sustainable long term soil future.
  • Posted by user412750 December 20, 2013 at 14:14

    Demahoney, you just haven't got it.

    The idea is for cultivation by local people, in the same way as allotments are tended by ordinary people, of all ages and from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds. In fact, the proposed park and ride takes out some of the land which is currently being used for allotments, which is part of the reason it is such a dreadful idea.

    When you buy organic food, it is more expensive than chemically produced food. But when you grow your own, it is not an expensive activity. You need the investment of time to produce your own food, but that is a personal choice about how you spend your spare time. The health benefits of exercise, fresh air and the joys of growing your own healthy food, as well as being in touch with nature make it all worth it - really worth it. The cost of renting land from the Council for an allotment is inexpensive, and the taste of fresh veg is amazing - far better than food shipped from wherever and days old.

    Think again, Demahoney.

  • Posted by user978102 December 28, 2013 at 13:10

    bristol is not just about business , its full of people and they need and are crying out for ways to be sustainable.

    We have enough people coming into town to visit chain stores and walk past the empty shops of broadmead (made empty by the last big wheeze of this council : cabot circus). Those chain stores take money out of the city an into tax havens , are they using the bristol pound ?

    Too many people are driving around for the wrong reasons , lazyness , inflexible jobs and even simple lack of imagination.

    If you want to help commuters how about funneling the money you would spend on this project to pay companies incentives to encourage more home working. Driving into a city to sit at a desk in front of a computer all day is an abuse of our roads , spending taxpayers money to promote this is an abuse of public funds.

    bristol needs more allotments , growing your own food is the best way to beat poverty. Making a large amount of allotments available to the citizens of bristol will provide a lasting benefit to them and generations to come.

    Allotments are always productive even when our politicans have failed us by allowing wars or commodity speculation to play havoc with out food supply, when we have finally given up on oil , these allotments will be bursting with life and sustenance and so will bristol.

    please don't tarmac our future just to make more millionaires richer
  • Posted by user251846 December 31, 2013 at 14:35

    Nimby-ism and elitism. Not everyone wants artisan bread, organic whatever and similar over-priced luxury goods.
  • Posted by user974253 December 31, 2013 at 18:11

    Fabulous idea, with te longer term in mind, but it could be a flagship for the Green Capital programme! As well as saving this land for produce, it would save us from a Park and Ride, something that is always an admission of failure in public transport policy.
  • Posted by user412750 January 02, 2014 at 14:29

    Palmerstonian, you haven't got it either. This is not about boosting the profits of the supermarkets or boutique shops. Nor is it nimbyism. This is about protecting rare, prime agricultural land in Bristol from completely misguided destruction. It's about allowing more people to grow their own food in a city context. There are waiting lists for allotments in this city - supply does not meet current demand, and given the environmental and food security issues we face, this demand isn't likely to go away.

    Growing your own food is just the opposite of elitism. In fact, people from all over the world and from all walks of life and all ages work on allotments in the UK - allotments are a great melting pot of humanity. And while middlemen and supermarkets contribute to the over-pricing of food while the producers barely make a living, growing your own food is very cheap, easy and very fulfilling. Nothing to do with "artisan" products - just fresh, nutritious veg and fruit, mostly but not always organic, depending on the views of the grower.

    If you're not interested in growing your own food, then fine, that's your choice. But plenty of others do. If you don't want to eat chemical free food, fine, your choice too. But it remains the case that concreting over prime agricultural land is not a solution to traffic congestion, to food-miles, to food security, to declining biodiversity or to living more sustainably.
  • Posted by user608679 January 04, 2014 at 00:56

    Absolutely fantastic idea. Developing resilience in the local economy has to be a top priority in these changing times.
  • Posted by user675375 January 06, 2014 at 01:12

  • Posted by user623382 January 09, 2014 at 12:16

    Totally agree with this proposal and with jseymour and others' positive responses. We have to look forward to a resilient future with food self-sufficiency not the old-fashioned dependence of cheap(?) oil. Let's put Bristol in the vanguard of these changes.
  • Posted by user765961 January 09, 2014 at 17:39

    I am gobsmacked that a city which proclaims itself a green city wants to tarmac a piece of very arable land for a parking lot. Given the nature of the comments I have read there are plenty of us who would enjoy growing our own vegetables. Putting such a venture would take work but it would be worthwhile. Surely there are groups who would be able to take it on.
  • Posted by user411811 January 14, 2014 at 11:23

    I'm happily adding my voice to this chorus of 'Yes Please!'
    with transport costs increasing, food production will benefit from being local, for the good of us all, and I know the joy that growing food can give, as well as the health benefits. This should be a no-brainer, but it seems that the committee that proposed the park and ride scheme has even less sense than that.

    Also, for anyone interested in locally grown food and it's potential for success, you could do worse that to search Google for TED Pam Warmhurst
    I was properly inspired by what she had to say, and what her local community had achieved!
  • Posted by user696056 January 17, 2014 at 22:20

    The work that has so far gone into the Bristol Green Finger is so inspiring & inspired.
    The fantastic round house built by the Shift Bristol Permaculture students & many volunteers was wonderful to watch being created, and is there to be enjoyed by & to inspire everyone.
    My favourite part of the Blue Finger project is seeing the access to the outdoors, to growing food, to learning that it provides to so many people who might not otherwise get such opportunities.
    I see people with very challenging physical and other difficulties beavering away on projects having a wonderful time in a very supportive environment.
  • Posted by user964588 January 27, 2014 at 20:03

    The most sustainable and "resiliant" thing to do with this blue finger land would be to parcel in up into plots and sell it for self build homes with large gardens - this would both give people a plot of land to grow their own, but also allow them to be self sufficient in housing: and not have to pay crippling rents or mortgages.

    By far the greatest outgoing for most people is housing costs, this is what makes people most vulnerable to economic changes and volatility: not their food costs. We must use land close to Bristol to allow people to live in homes and have gardens - rather than cram everyone into tiny flats within the existing city boundary.

    Otherwise, the blue finger idea is NIMBYism write large (no doubt why CPRE are such big supporters).

    Trying to keep all this land just for agricultural land to make Bristol self sufficient is otherwise bordering on the insane. Bristol made all its wealth from trading, the best way to make sure we can secure "food security" is to make sure everyone has the best opportunity to earn a living and aren't bled dry by sky high rents and house prices.

    Self Build with big gardens and allotments on the blue finger!
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