Spring has certainly been dry this year, but we haven’t suffered as much as some parts of the country. We have been lucky enough to have had a couple of good soakings through this long dry season. Not as much as we would normally expect, perhaps, but enough to keep the countryside around here looking fresh and green.
I have noticed it particularly along the roadsides, now simply teeming with colour as the wild flowers jostle for space – an impressionist painter’s dream. Driving along our lanes at this time of year is a joyous experience, with the tall heads of cow parsley swaying above the red campions, ox-eye daisies and sow thistles. The wild garlic is going to seed now as the groundsels poke through the grasses amongst the buttercups and hedge mustard. Here and there along the road, where there is a crevice in an old wall, red valerian dominates, attracting insects in their droves. On a day that is more reminiscent of summer than spring, the air is filled with the muted droning of all manner of tiny flying creatures exploring this endless buffet of scented flower heads. All seems well with the world.
That is, until along comes a man on a tractor wielding a noisy clattering blade that scythes through everything and takes it all off at ground level, leaving nothing but dying stems and wilting petals where there was abundant life before.
Call me sentimental, but answer me this question – “why?” Why do that? Why mow down mile after mile of colourful flowers? What is the point? Why is it better to do that than to leave the colour and diversity of our native wild flowers for all to see? After all, theses species have few enough habitats in which to thrive. I suppose our council would come up with some lame story about visibility or some nonsense of that sort. Or is it that we humans just can’t help ourselves and are simply responding to some innate desire to impose ourselves on as much of the planet as we can?
Let’s look at it another way. Let’s look at our native bird populations, in particular our woodland birds and garden songsters. Their numbers have fallen dramatically over the last forty years. Some species, the nightingale for example, are down by 90%. Obviously they are having a hard time. Various theories exist as to why numbers should drop so steeply. We are told all of our gardens are being decked and paved over, thus destroying habitat. Our newly paved gardens are also patrolled by voracious domestic felines that allegedly kill millions of little birds every year.
I would find it difficult to argue with either of these theories and, when it comes to cats, I personally think the world would be a better place with fewer cats and more birds – despite the fact that one of my best friends from the past was a black-and-white tom that answered to the name of Winston. However, these two suggestions are not the only possible causes. We could talk about monoculture cash crops, and pesticide-laced fields in which nothing lives except the moneymaker crop. But what is there to say that hasn’t been said before? Well, one thing we could say is that the food source for many wild birds is now confined to field edges and roadside verges. Field edges are dangerous places, partly because of pesticide drift, but many verges are still relatively wild. So I suggest that mowing down the plants that thrive on the roadside verges is not helping. Wild flowers attract insects and insects are food for birds. Cut down miles of wild flowers and a massive food source disappears. It is all the more upsetting that such insensitivity manifests itself right in the middle of the nesting season.
Is it me? Or does anyone else think that burning fossil fuel to operate a tractor to destroy habitat and a major food source for nesting birds is really not a helpful way to go about addressing issues such as climate change, peak oil and loss of biodiversity?