July 01, 2012

Making hay while the sun shines

July 1st and across much of the country the grass is high, ready to be cut for hay. Something about it seems to make Scout happy; she bounces in circles through tall grass for no other reason than the sheer joy of it.

When grass is cut for animal feed, either to make hay or silage (wrapped and fermented grass), it is usually mown before it sets seed because that's when the grass blades are at their most nutritious. But at Morden Hall Park, only a few miles from our house, no fertilisers are used, and the grass is allowed to set seed for the next year before being cut. 

Everywhere were vast seed-clocks of goatsbeard, otherwise known as salsify, or, to give it its old country name, 'Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon'. There were patches of wall barley and mallow, too, and hawksbeard, and stands of nettles and cow parsley, but although I listened for it I missed the buzzing of grasshoppers and crickets. We saw two butterflies, one a red admiral, and a buff-tailed bumblebee, but there should have been many more pollinators about.

It's hardly surprising. The UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows since 1930; honeybee numbers have halved in the last 25 years, and three-quarters of our butterflies are in decline. We need the National Trust to preserve natural and semi-natural grassland like this; we also need local councils to stop their brutal cutting-back of verges so that nectar-rich species can thrive and provide joined-up food corridors for insects, rather than the odd isolated oasis.

And most importantly, we need a sea-change: instead of phoning the council to complain about unmown parks, we all need to agree that lawns don't have to look like bowling-greens, that commons should have "weeds" in them and that, with a few exceptions on grounds of safety, verges, hedgerows, railway cuttings and towpaths must be left alone in summer. Because if we lose the pollinators that help make our food, we might as well all buzz off.