bunn (bunn) wrote,

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A week's answer

Before I had to zoom away to Boston, I posted casually in ladyofastolat's journal in praise of dandelions. She responded...

Sadly, wildlife doesn't come to the garden

I started writing a reply to this, but it's one of those things that 'required a weeks answer, or none' and I only just finished thinking it over. By which time it was far too long for a comment so I either had to throw it away or post it here. So I hope she will forgive me for that because it kind of moved on...

Any garden is a potential (and probably real) wildlife habitat. Even a tiny one. Wildlife is not composed only of what Gerald Durrell labelled 'charismatic megafauna' such as lions and tigers (or in the UK, badgers, otters, wildcats, eagles, deer). It's a whole structure: even if you *have* charismatic megafauna the chances are that few people know about it, because there are never many of them about and in environments with people in, they are very good at keeping out of the way.

What you see in most gardens is the smaller building blocks of the ecosystem, which are just as delicate and important and in many cases just as beautiful, and which are so, so easy to sweep away because people think it's important to be tidy. Tidy! Who destroys a world out of tidiness...?

In the garden whose owner has unwarily precipitated this rant ( :-p ), a couple of weeks back, I saw bumblebees, butterflies and birds. I saw a Small Blue butterfly and 2 Orange Tips on the way to the Co-op. I bet there are lots of moths, beetles, worms and other invertebrates too. In the lawn were amazing mosses and creeping flowering weeds, and in the border there were lots of flowering plants, native and imported, providing early nectar for the bees.

The seeds of the dandelion are excellent for goldfinches and siskins. An untreated, mown-from-time to time lawn rich with weeds and worms means it's likely to be a really useful food habitat for the blackbird (yes, there is a blackbird. I saw him). The grass was a bit scratched up in places: yes, that's partly the cats, but I'd be amazed if it wasn't the blackbird and robins as well.

One small garden habitat may not support much on its own, but grouped together in cheerful suburbs, small gardens are not just for people. In fact, a lot of the time they are better habitats than farmland, particularly in the areas where the landscape makes massive pesticide powered agriculture economic.

Things like use of garden pesticides on small gardens where each gardener is thinking that their contribution to the whole is minimal, really do make a difference. We as a society are building more and more houses closer and closer,covering the areas between in decking and gravel, and then treating those areas with weedkillers and pesticides. Along our roads we string car parks and great tin boxes, connected by a handful of bushes selected not for their wildlife value, but their ease of management. We are making a desert inch by inch.

When I first lived in Mickle Trafford in Cheshire, there was a really disturbing lack of birds. The land around had been drained and treated, most houses had a lawn that was a monoculture of one or two species of grass, and treated for weeds, for worms, for anything that might interrupt the sameness. No bluetits, but plenty of blue from the endless bloody slug pellets strewn everywhere. One day I was out walking and the only bird I saw was a dead woodpigeon on someone's porch. It had a slug pellet in its beak. OK, it might have been a coincidence. Might.

The birds started to come back by the time we left there, but still, so few, so few species. I had a nightmare with pests in that garden, because the whole area's system was so totally out of kilter. The soil structure was wrong (not enough worms, because of lack of organic matter in the soil - all sent off to the tip), in the gardens where there were no pesticides used (mine) there were plagues of blackfly, sawfly, slugs, lily beetle - because all the natural predators of those pests had had their populations suppressed.

The garden was big enough on its own to support unstable breed-crash cycles of insects blown in from outside the immediate area or emerging from the tiny local populations that couldn't be completely eradicated, but not big enough to support the predators (such as bluetits and ladybirds) that would have kept the populations to a manageable size. And of course there were no larger predators (charismatic megafauna) because there was no supporting structure. There were a few urban foxes, living out of bins. Foxes are not supposed to live out of bins. A rural fox is a lovely thing, but you don't get a fox in fabulous condition on a diet of old potato chips...

A good number of lovely laid-back neighbours with a lax attitude to tidy-garden-syndrome was what that area needed to get back to having a proper ecosystem, a proper beauty. A garden isn't a fixed thing: it should move, and that means letting go a bit and accepting that not everything will always be quite how you planned...

Heavens. I went on and on. See me rant...
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