Monday, 7 February 2011

Wild Flower Meadows by Charlotte Abbas

This is an article by Chorlton resident and FoCM member, Charlotte Abbas. Charlotte is also a member of The Friends of Hough End Clough and The Friends of the Fallowfield Loop. Like me she deplores the continuing destruction of our local biodiversity through over-development, mis-management, ignorance and neglect. I agree with every word of the following article - Ed.

In Britain we have lost enormous areas that used to be wildflower-rich grasslands. This was mainly because of intensive farming and the liberal use of herbicides. Have you noticed the uniformly green fields while driving or being driven around the countryside? Not a buttercup or dandelion in sight! There were also lots of pockets of underused land – often considered as 'derelict' around towns and cities that provided a home for a great variety of wildflowers. But much of this has disappeared under concrete for houses, roads, runways, supermarkets etc. or just been 'tidied' up e.g. landscaped with regularly cut grass or ornamental shrubs.

It is not just the wildflowers that we have lost but the whole biodiversity of these places – the flowers being just the most eye-catching and pleasing aspect. There was a host of insects (grasshoppers, bees, butterflies, moths, to name a few) that provided food for birds, bats, amphibians; other birds, field mice and voles ate the seeds of grasses and plants, and in turn fell prey to foxes, owls, kestrels.

What can be done to reverse this trend or at least mitigate for the loss? Last year I went to Germany in spring. In the cities you find housing estates with large apartment blocks. In between them are what would here be closely cut lawns but there the grass was left to grow and it was full of wildflowers: cowslips, celandine, lady's smock and so much more. Back here in Manchester on my way to town on the bus I passed Hulme along Princess Road. Lots of lovely meadow buttercups, and along came the lawnmowers and chopped off their heads. Why? Could we not enjoy the beauty of nature in our cities? I know, there are people who are used to short uniformly green lawns and find it disconcerting when nature makes a mess of this. But maybe if they realized how artificial this is, how barren and poor compared with a lawn full of flowers, bees buzzing, butterflies, they would change their minds? Let's try it out. Especially now that we are expecting cutbacks everywhere, saving on petrol alone would be good for the Council's coffers and the environment.

Creating or maintaining a meadow takes some effort. I will not go into the 'creation’ bit here.
Maintenance is basically mowing at the right time of year and removing the cuttings. The time to cut is when the seeds have ripened, the second half of August is usually okay. Mowing much later is not a good idea. In late summer the grasses will still grow, certain moths and butterflies lay their eggs on grasses or their caterpillars overwinter in amongst the plants, invertebrates and even small mammals like somewhere to hide in the winter. When the cuttings are left on the ground they will add nutrients to the soil which is not desirable because it will encourage tougher grasses and plants to dominate and squeeze out the more dainty ones.

I would love to see more wildflowers in our city landscape and with them greater biodiversity in general. Maybe the term 'meadow' is a bit ambitious but let's try to be less tidy, give nature a chance, even our gardens could be so much more interesting instead of fighting 'weeds' we learned to appreciate them for the little gems they really are. This also applies to municipal green spaces. Could we come up with a mowing regime in some parks where there are paths cut through the grass and then the grass is cut after the flowers have shed their seeds. I realise it takes a bit of an effort to get that right. There are some people of a certain age who might remember lying in long grass in those endless summers 'we used to have' surrounded by flowers and beautiful grasses buzzing with bees and butterflies. How many children can experience this simple pleasure now?

Charlotte Abbas, February 2011

No comments: