One of the positives of lockdown has been how noticeable nature has become. With far less traffic noise people are noticing the birdsong. Wildlife like deer and badgers have been spotted in the city centre. With more time being spent in gardens people are noticing all manner of insects.
Some Sheffielder’s have taken up the challenge of “Mow Free May”. They are breaking with the lifelong habit of getting the lawnmower out every fortnight and leaving the grass to grow to see what wildflowers emerge. Why are they doing this? A report in the journal Biological Conservation found that 97 per cent of British wildflower meadows have disappeared since the 1930s. A recent study published in the journal Nature Communications shows that many British pollinating insects are in decline, with rarer species, such as the red-shanked carder bee, really struggling. Pollinators are vital for our food supply. Between 1980 and 2013, every square kilometre in the UK lost an average of 11 species of bee and hoverfly. The reasons behind this are the use of insecticides and herbicides, habitat loss and an overall reduction in biodiversity. People are often surprised at how quickly the lawn blossoms with many varieties of wildflowers, encouraging bees and insects back to the garden.
France banned pesticide use in parks, streets and public spaces back in 2017. Last year they also banned pesticides in gardens. This has led to a surge in awareness of urban wildflowers. Botanist Sophie Leguil started a craze that has now spread to Sheffield. She set up the “More than Weeds” project and started highlighting plants growing in urban streets by chalking their name on the pavement. This idea spread rapidly, educating many about the biodiversity on their street. A recent article in the Guardian has encouraged many to take up the idea here. The photos show chalkings in Sheffield. Technically this is illegal in this country, so I could not possibly advocate that readers should do this, but reports indicate that the idea is leading to a greater appreciation of nature among people of all ages and it is having a positive effect on mental health.
If you want to find out more about the plants growing in your garden and your street there are various phone apps you can use to help you with identification. I’ve never studied botany but am finding out by using the “PlantSnap” app.
Of course, the Council still think it is the right thing to spend our Council Tax money destroying these plants with Glyphosate, denying the bees their nectar and the citizens interaction with nature on their otherwise monotonous local walks. The petition to the Council to stop Glyphosate spraying has now reached 5700 signatures. You can sign here. bit.ly/glyphosatesheffield
My street doesn’t have any verges, but in suburbia, people have taken to adopting their verges and turning them into a wildflower meadow. They have done this by creating signs asking the Council not to mow them and noting the diversity of flowers that emerge. This has already led to one stand-off, reminiscent of the trees dispute. A resident pleaded with workers not to cut the grass, but he was ignored. He then stood on the verge to prevent the workmen strimming it. He was unable to prevent most of the verge being shorn but did save the central area where he stood. I am sure Health and Safety regulations must have been broken in this operation.
For road safety reasons it is obviously important to keep verges trimmed at junctions or where long grass could cause a hazard. But many local authorities, struggling with cuts to their budgets, have reduced the number of times the verges are mowed. Reducing mowing to the “twice is nice” recommendations from the wildlife charity Plantlife (https://www.plantlife.org.uk/uk), cutting verges twice in late summer and autumn or once in autumn and once in early spring, could save 22,754 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
According to Dr Trevor Dines, local authorities which have taken the decision to mow less and later are now getting more feedback from residents welcoming roadside blooms than complaints about messiness.
Plantlife is highlighting 10 summer flowering plants that are increasingly rare and seeking refuge in roadside verges through the countryside.
They are oxeye daisy, yellow rattle, wild carrot, meadow crane’s-bill, greater knapweed, white campion, burnet-saxifrage, betony, harebell and field scabious. The plants could see their best summer in years with fewer cuts. Let’s hope our Council get the message and work with residents to increase biodiversity rather than constantly destroying it.