Our WhatsApp group has been abuzz for months with photos of wildflowers, and of course the beautiful pollinators that depend on them.
At all hours of the day and night, we have been proudly sending each other our wonderful pictures. It has brought us all a lot of joy and helped to get us through these past few months.
At times, our discussion has also been about the council’s indiscriminate and problematic verge-mowing policy whereby great swathes of natural beauty have been strimmed to the ground.
We are working to change hearts and minds on this issue, pointing out the council’s responsibility in terms of biodiversity.
So I’m sure you can imagine our excitement Joshua Styles agreed to host an online talk with us.
Joshua is Senior Ecologist & Botanical Specialist with Tyrer Ecological Consultants Ltd. He is also the Project Co-ordinator of the North-West Rare Plant Initiative, which is working to bring 40 species back from the brink of extinction.
His talk was entitled ‘Wildflowers in Public Spaces’. This blog is a brief overview – if you would like to see the whole talk, please visit the free Eco Communities video HERE.
Joshua’s knowledge and enthusiasm is infectious (if that term is allowed in these strange times!) His endearing overuse of the word “marvellous” is a particular highlight.
In Britain we have around 1500 native flowering plants, around half of which have been found growing in roadside verges.
Many of the plants which make verges their home are rare or declining species or food sources for rare invertebrates. In Cheshire this includes the pyramidal orchid, and the small heath butterfly.
Britain has lost 93% of its semi-natural wildflower meadows in the last hundred years. Verges are the last vestiges of this historic habitat, so important to our native wildlife.
Joshua pointed out the importance of grass, often seen as the poor relation to more showy flowers. He explained that even though grasses may not have flowers, many are essential food sources for insects, or places to lay their eggs.
Here are Joshua’s plus points about grass roadside verges:
- Refuges for priority species – of national conservation significance
- Wildlife corridors (in Cheshire, which is a stronghold, they are used by Great Crested Newts)
- Important habitats for invertebrates including pollinators & crop crest predators, therefore important for agriculture
- Mitigate traffic pollution
- Quantifiable mental health benefits
- Possible pharmaceutical potential, with each lost species being a possible loss of useful human medicine.
Roadside verges across Great Britain make up a total of over 300,000 miles of undeveloped land not used for agriculture.
However, the verges suffer from an obsession with tidiness. Over-regular cutting is not only wasteful, it’s against councils’ legal duty to biodiversity.
A Freedom of Information request made by Joshua has revealed the vast, almost incredible amounts of council money spent on mowing. Last year Sefton council spent £450,000; Lancashire council spent £1.4 million.
By contrast, councils which have altered their mowing regimes have saved money: Bromley saved £60,000; Dorset saved £92,000.
However, a complete lack of mowing is not a good thing for wildflowers, mowing mimics the action of grazing animals, preventing the verges from reverting to scrub and eventually woodland.
Joshua’s asks of councils seem eminently sensible:
- Cut less and cut later. A more relaxed mowing regime allows plants and animals to complete their life cycles and reproduce safely. He recommends just one or two cuts annually, within the August-March period.
- Introduce a plant called Yellow Rattle, which is parasitic on grass and therefore reduces grass growth, encouraging flowers.
After the presentation, Joshua took questions from the audience about how best to encourage wildflowers in their personal habitats, such as gardens, window boxes etc.
His suggestions for plants that are good to grow in lawns are as follows; yellow rattle, oxeye daisies, field scabious, black knapweed, common catsear (good for solitary bees), red clover and birdsfoot trefoil.
He explained that we are best to plant native species, as they each have their specialist insects depending on them. Non-native wildflowers only attract generalist pollinators.
Before putting flower seeds in a lawn, Josh recommends scarifying with a rake. This will create more bare soil and increase seed germination.
Finally, the talk turned to dandelions, the bane of tidy gardeners’ lives.
As some may already knew, dandelions are particularly good for bees. They are especially important because they are one of the first plants to flower in the spring, making them often the only source of pollen available. It turns out some species of dandelion are actually facing extinction in the UK.
Friends of the Earth are asking CWAC to adopt the Plantlife guidelines regarding pollinators as part of their new Biodiversity Strategy (currently under consultation).
We want less unnecessary mowing and less ‘tidying’, meaning more wildlife.
We appreciate that a change in public perception is needed with regards to mowing, just as a sea change has happened with recycling.
Recycling was originally seen as a nuisance by many but has now been generally accepted as essential practice. Mowing needs to be the opposite – understood to be non-essential, and a nuisance to the protection of our wildlife.
We are currently working on a project called One Acre Meadow, asking citizens to leave a patch of their garden or outdoor space uncultivated. We are creating a map of all these little patches, which we hope will add up to an acre. This is a way of mapping people’s personal commitment to nature across the region.
We would love you to get involved too – are you already devoting an area of your garden to nature? Take a look at the map, and add your spot!
Also please tweet your pictures and see everyone else’s – using #oneacremeadow
If you’d like to see more of Joshua Styles, wildflower guru, his twitter handle is @joshual951
If you would like to work with us on any environmental issue, please contact us by whichever method suits you best:
Facebook – Friends of the Earth Chester and District
Twitter – @ChesterFoE
Email – Chesterfoe@hotmail.co.uk
Or use the form at https://friendsoftheearth.uk/groups/chester
We are a friendly and passionate bunch, who in “normal” times like nothing better than a drink and a natter about the world in which we live – and how we can try to work together & make it better.
This is the first time I’ve created a blog – although co-ordinator Helen has been asking hopefully for quite some time. My last big project with Friends Of the Earth & Eco Communities was an online environmental arts event called the
(CLOUDS) Gathering. All the events are still available online for FREE at https://www.crowdcast.io/ecocommunities_. Please do take a look, I am sure some will tickle your fancy. You might even catch me in presenter/actor mode…