Wildlife in this country once formed a ceaseless carpet that spread from the far north to the southernmost tip, mostly thick forest but also with glades, hills, rivers, mountains, marshes, lakes, estuaries and cliffs. Nowadays nature has been shifted, altered, re-organised and managed by ourselves into more of a patchy mosaic, a pretty mosaic perhaps, but with a lot of gaps in it. In the last half-century these gaps have been widened and new holes have opened up where once was green land; this has forced nature into a situation where every single tessera (the individual squares that make up the mosaic) is vitally important to its overall health. Staying with this ‘mosaic model’ a little longer, each tessera could be defined as a nature reserve (of any size), a hill, a copse, a single pond/lake, a meadow, a stream/hedge/railway-line/verge or even garden. If our towns and cities were simply continuous masses of concrete and tarmac without a single park or road verge or garden, then whatever nature surrounds it would be isolated from the nature on the other side, there would be no flow of organisms – it would be like a body where each organ has become disconnected from the others – it would soon die.
Thankfully that situation has not yet occurred; there are still many interwoven, connected areas that link up separate tessera by green spaces. Lately most major conservation charities (and some government bodies) have realised the importance of keeping the mosaic as complete and connected as possible; this has become known as ‘landscape-scale conservation’. It is not easy to manage the land in this way as there has to be a lot of communication and organisation between authorities and land-owners, local opposition of building developments is also crucial. It is good that this new way of thinking has eventually been widely adopted, yet I do not believe they are thinking small enough; they are in the view that nature in this country is more of a web with larger more ‘important’ areas connected by thin lines, when it is really the tiny tessera that make up the overall picture.
If I look at a detailed map of my local area there are about six blocks of green in my area of the town – each green block on the map barely takes up more than a few millimeters of map space and don’t look like much at all. Yet if I were to visit each of these tiny green blobs on the ground I would see that they are much larger than the map makes out and also stuffed full of wildlife, mostly common but some uncommon, none of which is obvious from the air. Each of these little green areas amongst the houses is one tessera in the mosaic, if one were to be built upon the big picture would become less clear and more fragmented – nature would be that bit more isolated from itself. I do not think that the government, local councils or even conservation charities really think about such small places or even consider them as important to nature nationally – not worth saving.
I just went for a short walk around one of these green blocks; it is a rectangle surrounded by houses and a railway line and not more than a few hundred meters across, yet within it I saw hundreds of Azure Damselflies, Beautiful Demoiselles, a family of Moorhens, blue and skipper butterflies, many wildflowers and grasses and excellent thick scrub habitat for birds. It is a miniature haven for local wildlife, none of which is exceptionally rare and the populations are not nationally important, yet all those common species are only common because there are thousands of such small areas in which they can live – take away even a small number of these places and before you know what’s happened those common species can no longer be called by that prefix. I see this time and time again, wherever I go; what seems like a tiny insignificant field or wood or park tucked away in a town or amongst farmland is always on closer inspection clearly of immense value as a habitat to the local animals and plants of the area.
But when I say we need to value small spaces, I really mean small, take for example a roadside verge – so often cut bowling-green short by the council completely unnecessarily (it’s not like people have picnics on them) when if left they could be vital areas of tall grass and wildflowers for pollinating insects and small animals. Think smaller still, what about the moss and lichen on your roof? If you left that there, rather than scraping it off it would be of great importance to tiny insects, micro-animals, plants and everything that feeds on them – as well as helping water-retention and CO2 absorption. Think even smaller than that – what about the cracks in your pavement or the gaps between the bricks in your driveway? These tiny cracks quickly fill with moss and tiny grasses or even flowers if left alone; not much you might think, but it all adds up and is useful to those easily-forgotten micro-animals such as rotifers and water-bears that are probably more important to healthy soils than we give them credit for.
I hope I have made my point clearly, I am trying not to sound nagging but it is the everyday man that can make a difference especially when we’re talking about such small, local places – using your garden differently, not cutting a patch of grass or signing a petition to stop a building development are things we can do that large organisations don’t have the time or resources for. So appreciate the small things, the small places that are perhaps of more importance to nature in this country than all the fancy nature reserves are.