As coronavirus continues to grip the world, the UK’s lock-down has been extended and vulnerable local authority employees remain on furlough, so it’s no surprise that many normal services have been suspended.
One very noticeable result in our area (and, I suspect, around the country) is that grass verges, roundabouts and other green spaces are not being mowed, strimmed and weed-killed into their normal state of sterility, turning instead into glorious mini-meadows full of wildflowers and tall nodding grasses.
This unforeseen boost for nature makes a bright spot, literally, in the midst of the sadness and worry. As gardeners and eco-activists, we’ve been rejoicing in the appearance of acres of shaggy grassland, golden with dandelions and buttercups, and studded with daisies, clover, pink cardamine and cow-parsley, to name the commonest species we’ve spotted: a feast for human eyes, and a feast of nectar and pollen for a wide range of insect species including bees and butterflies. It’s great news for the environment in many ways. Plants eat carbon dioxide, so all this growing herbage acts as a vast carbon sink to improve air quality. At the same time, it shades and cools the soil, trapping moisture, and keeping everything green and alive – vitally important when climate change means that prolonged dry spells, like the one we’re currently experiencing, occur on a regular basis. I mean, which would you rather see in a long, hot, dry summer: beautiful flowery long grass abounding with life, or short mown grass frazzled into a depressing brown, hot, dusty, barren desert (like we had everywhere in 2018)? Long grass also provides habitat for moths, butterflies and many other insects, which in turn provide food for birds and bats – all of which have been in a worryingly sharp decline in recent years, but for once are getting a very welcome boost at the start of the breeding season.
Yes, coronavirus might be disastrous for humanity, but it’s a boon for Mother Nature – and I hope that when the health crisis passes, we can hang onto some of these unexpected positive aspects. So we’ve begun lobbying our local council not to ‘go back to normal’ but to preserve at least some of these delightful new wildlife havens, even develop them by seeding them as permanent wildflower meadows - a common practice in Europe which is being adopted here by some forward-looking local authorities. Carrying out only the minimum amount of maintenance necessary for access and Health & Safety is a win-win situation: saving the environment and wildlife, and saving a whole lot of money, machine fuel, noxious chemicals and unnecessary labour in the process. So I’d be very grateful if you’d join our little campaign by writing to your local council and/or MP, and asking them to preserve the shaggy verge!