July 28, 2012

To live by the sward

A month ago I blogged about grasslands and pollinators, and how important it is that wildflowers are allowed to bloom in order to support bees and butterflies – particularly in the capital.

The same day, I wrote to my local council, Lambeth, to ask them to leave more verges unmown. Here is their reply:

When it comes to the management of verges on the public highway we have to... ensure grass and shrubs are kept short and tidy. This is because previous consultations with residents and other customers indicated that they preferred to see highway verges kept neat, tidy and well presented in order to create and maintain a clean, presentable image for the local neighbourhood. Although we receive regular enquiries about allowing some verges to be left to develop into rough grassland or meadows, we have to politely decline such requests and respect the wishes of the existing community, as well as to avoid difficulties in keeping them safe and free of litter, and in accessing them for regular maintenance.

The problem with this approach is twofold. Firstly, it assumes that the council are in total tune with local residents' wishes, when this may not be the case. I have replied asking when the last consultation on this matter was carried out, because I believe that in recent years attitudes to native plants have begun to change, given the widespread concern about bee numbers and the popularity of TV programmes such as Sarah Raven's Bees, Butterflies and Blooms and books such as Richard Mabey's brilliant Weeds. Secondly, it absolves the council from any responsibility for changing such attitudes, when, in fact, there is a lot they could be doing if they chose to take a more proactive role. Certainly for me, a 'clean, presentable image' is not only highly subjective, but is far less important than saving the pollinators we all depend on to fertilise our crops.

I will publish their response again here when I get it. In the meantime, if you've ever rung your council or landlord to request that grass be more regularly mowed, please think of the bees and butterflies who depend on its dandelions and clover and daisies, and think twice.