Monday, 13 October 2014

Nothing conserves like poverty

A short but poignant quote from my "book of the moment". "Meadowland, the private life of an English field" is a proper page turner. The author, John Lewis-Stemple gives us a week by week account of the comings and goings in his Herefordshire meadow. You'd think, wouldn't you, that it would be quite a tiresome read, but no. John paints such beautiful pictures with his words that the different habitats, weather conditions, plants and creatures come to life and I almost feel as though I am walking beside him across the field.

Is poverty a great conservationist?

Do you know, I agree with John, nothing does conserve like poverty.
Think of some of the most beautiful places you know. Dartmoor, the Scottish Highlands, the Peak District, The Burren. It's very difficult in any of those areas to make a living from the land. The soil quality is just not good enough to grow food crops or the agricultural grasses that fuel milk production. Nor even forests of pine destined to become coffee tables, pallets and matchsticks. If farming and forestry doesn't make enough money, there is no cash to invest in fertilisers or herbicides to "improve" the land. What happens to unimproved land? Nature finds a balance, that's what happens.
The Burren where nature has populated the land with a wide variety of wildflowers

Now compare unimproved wild spaces with our closely manicured and very beautiful gardens.
The kind of garden I'm thinking of has a patio beside the house and another seating area at the bottom of the garden. It has a lawn, an ornamental tree, a wooden boundary fence, raised vegetable beds, herbaceous flower beds and a few planters dotted around. Most likely filled with those double begonias that are so eyecatching in summer. There is a medium sized pond inhabited by graceful koi carp. No aquatic plants have escaped their voracious appetites but no-one can deny, they are magnificent creatures.
The gardener here likes an extent. They have bird feeders dangling from a pole in front of the kitchen window. But no natural food for our feathered friends. Aphids and caterpillars, slugs and snails are actively discouraged. Without aphids there will be no ladybirds or lacewings. without slugs, the frogs will starve.

What does a garden cost?

According to Emma Townsend, writing in the Independant in May 2014, the average Brit will spend £30,000 on their gardens over a lifetime. Crikey! Well that certainly rules out poverty. Gardeners like to invest in their outdoor rooms and I don't blame them. I've not added up what I spend. I daren't! but even though my garden is nowhere near as beautifully manicured as some of the gardens I've visited it, it's certainly not as biodiverse as it would be if it were left to its own devices
My garden costs me money for seeds and plants, compost and fertilisers, tools and equipment and of course, if I charged for my own labout, it would cost money for that too. It gives me peace, sanctuary, tomatoes, apples, raspberries, gooseberries, flowers, eggs (there are chickens at the bottom of my garden), veggies and exercise.
My garden offers wildlife a bit of pollen and nectar, a few safe places to shelter, slugs aplenty, aphids and caterpillars, trees to perch in and chicken food to pilfer. There's a mini-wildflower meadow created using Meadowmat wildflower turf as part of an experiment to see if wildflower turf is better than wildflower seed (it is). This is popular with spiders, slugs and frogs....and my two grandsons who like to hunt for spiders slugs and frogs.
My "other" garden is part of the family farm that can't be ploughed. It's more or less allowed to naturalise. It offers me blackberries in summer, birdsong, food for my honeybees, crab apples and sloes (I love sloe gin)
In my "other" garden, where no money is spent, there are countless species of crawling, slithering and flying minibeasts. There are several different species of bumblebees, goodness how many flowering plant.s, butterflies, birds, mice, shrews, a fox den, a badger sett, roe deer, muntjacs, rabbits, hares......the list goes on.
So John Lewis-Stemple is absolutely correct. Nothing conserves like poverty. But strictly between you and me, much as I love nature and welcome biodiversity, there are some bits of biodiversity (foxes, badgers, deer and pigeons) that I really would prefer to stay in the countryside.

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