Town councils, on the whole (certainly not mine), are hardly renowned for their care and appreciation of the natural world that exists within their boundary of authority. Granted, councils have a lot on their plate and increasingly less money to work with and their prerogative is to manage their town and its environs for the people that live there. Usually, councils come under fire from those whose interest is the environment when they do something awful and large-scale like giving planning permission for a huge estate on prime green-belt, or when they sell off areas of high nature value to private interests. But one of the things which annoys me most and which occurs every single year within my town, and likely most towns in England, is the wholesale strimming of every patch of green of any size and any location.
In an ideal world, councils would leave every grass verge in their precinct untouched until the end of summer, allowing wildflowers and grasses to produce flowers and set seed – and in so doing provide food and habitat for countless invertebrates, mammals and birds. However, whilst I do not personally understand the need for patches of grass to be ‘tidy’, I do at least appreciate that grass verges in certain locations, such as in front of peoples houses or in areas of high usage by walkers and dogs, are preferably kept short.
But, there is a difference between mowing patches of grass in parks and along residential roads to keep them short and thick, and the over-zealous slash-and-burn strimming of every green space in town, regardless of that areas usage, so that in mid-summer we are left with the sight of exposed dirt and brown grass, covered with dead cut grass, where before was lush green vegetation with wild flowers.
A case in point is a park near where I live, this park has large, open playing fields which are regularly cut (fine) and it also has a linear stretch of woodland that runs along one edge of it. This wood is predominantly oak, with some other trees and shrubs and it has an open structure with lush ground flora, it also has a well-used path running through it. A highlight of this wood in spring is the carpets of bluebells and wood anemones that appear, and later in summer there are extensive stands of cow-parsley. Last week the under-story of this wood consisted of cow-parsley, tall grasses, hog-weed in flower and bramble also in flower amongst other plants that made up a lush undergrowth of greenery. Then the council sent in their ride-on mowers to chew all of the vegetation underneath the trees in the wood into mulch, which was left on the ground, they cut it so low and so harshly that there is now no vegetation at all – the woodland floor is now just exposed dirt with grass cuttings rotting on top.
Not only is the woodland floor now effectively a desert to wildlife, it is also ugly and unpleasant to all the people who walk through the wood. This wood is not used for picnics, it is not used to play games (the playing fields opposite facilitate that), it is not part of a manicured horticultural garden, nor is it in front of anyone’s house, it is simply a little wildlife haven in the middle of a busy town which allows people some breathing space and some engagement with nature. So why, oh why, does the council feel it is necessary to use their own time, money and resources to ruin on a yearly basis the verdant summer growth and life in a patch of wood, destroying wildlife and rendering the wood unpleasant to the human eye. I can think of no reason.
This is hardly an isolated incident, they do the same thing all over town and other councils do it in other towns throughout the UK. Considering the combined total of land area taken up by grass verges and other small green spaces in urban and suburban areas across the country, the potential for creating habitats for wildlife in places where there is little else is enormous. The most obvious benefit to not cutting such areas is the increase in flowers which would grow, flower and set seed if left alone, these flowers not only look very pretty they also provide food for our declining bees, butterflies and other pollinators.
I realise that there are wildflower verge schemes already set up, there are in fact several wildflower verges in my town (only a few), but it is not enough and as evidenced by what has been done to the wood near my house, it is not just verges by roads that need to be saved from the blades. I just can’t understand why anyone finds a closely-cropped, dull-green (and often in summer, brown), flowerless patch of perennial rye grass nicer to look at than the same patch covered in tall, flowering grasses and various flowers, buzzing with bees, butterflies and other small creatures. It is beyond my comprehension, but then maybe that’s just me.