Category: Columns

Wild-Flower Meadows in Stratford upon Avon – Elizabeth Coles

The town council has declared a climate emergency and we have been working on various plans to address it. Obviously the COVID-19 crisis has slowed much of our work and diverted our attention to the immediate worries that our residents have. However, it has been ticking over in the background and we have been talking about it regularly. One of the things that really caught our imagination was the rewilding and wild flower projects that a lot of other councils have been doing. We thought that it fits in really well in Stratford. There are are many groups of people in Stratford who have eco projects on the go and several have started in recent months in part because of the lockdown and people spending more time gardening. We started looking for potential plots of land within Stratford town that would lend themselves to wild flower planting. That was relatively straightforward; what then slowed us down was finding the owners and convincing them to let us use the land for planting. This is still ongoing but it was disappointing when we really wanted to get going as soon as possible. Then we realised we could begin by using the grass at the front of our own house, which we suggested to the council as a pilot site. Catherine Coton is an ecologist and biologist who worked with Councillor Cohl Warren-Howes on the St Peter’s graveyard which has been turned into a nature reserve. She carried out a biodiversity survey for us on the two grass areas which is fascinating to read. It is mainly Rye Grass with Turf Moss and a range of other plants such as Cranesbill, Self-Heal, Yarrow, Common Ragwort and White Clover. We are pretty new to this and apart from the moss saw nothing but grass! The report recommended that we get a soil analysis as, if the land were quite nutrient-high, it would be better to go for a more ornamental planting with native bulbs and flower beds. If it were low-nutrient, then meadow planting would work better. So my next job is to arrange to get a soil test sent off. What we would like to do (and what Catherine recommended) is to have several different areas along the road. If it all works out we are going to have at least three areas. The first, nearest the house, will have ‘plugs’ of perennial and bee-friendly flowers. We will probably put in more planting along the whole length of the wall at the back where the daffodils are. The next area would be Yellow Rattle. If we rake out the moss and a lot of the grass, we can seed the area with Yellow Rattle, a grass parasite that will help prepare the ground for meadow-seeding in the years to come. Catherine recommends mowing at least once in summer, and a follow-up mowing in autumn while the grass is still growing, and early spring.  We would have to stop mowing from late spring (April/May) until as late as possible (June/July to August for some sites) to allow flowering and seed development. The mown hay can be used to seed the area for following years. We would also like to create a  meadow area of Cornfield annuals but we would have to ensure that the soil nutrients are not too high. To do that we would have to create bare ground before sowing by taking the grass out and probably some of the top soil – the soil analysis would tell us if that was necessary. Once seeded, we would need to weed out ​​undesirable species (thistles, bindweed) while the new plants were growing. The ground would need disturbing in late summer/autumn to help re-establish the same plants for the next year.  Possibly we will also need fresh seed, but this can be collected and re-sown each year. The work is hopefully going to start in March with clearing grass, moss and seeding the two different meadow areas. As it is a Town Council project, their Outdoor Team are going to carry out the work or supervise volunteers.  They want to have a good look at the site so they know  what they are taking on. I’m going to report back on suppliers of seeds, plugs and bulbs of wild flowers to the  council so we can make the final decision on what we will put in each plot. I also have been looking at a selection of very low-growing wild flowers which could be included in a lawn that could be kept mowed at 5/6 cm. Some people might find that much more acceptable than a very high meadow. So before March we intend to get a soil analysis and create a report of what seeds and plants can be purchased from reliable suppliers. Then we can finalise the three areas and what is to be planted. We are going to keep a careful record of everything we do to show other landowners when we discuss their land and to ensure a comprehensive archive for the Council. I will take photographs of the area every week so that we can have a visual record of our work. We are really looking forward to getting started! by Elizabeth Coles
Elizabeth in her Council robes

Green Reflections – Clare James

Greetings, fellow homebodies. Our locked-down lives may sometimes seem bleak, but let’s focus on the chiaro, rather than the oscuro. For ways to beat the winter blues, see the BMJ. My favourite tip? ‘Embrace the . . . green.’ Thanks to a recent gift, the east-facing window side of my kitchen is now a verdant array of potted plants that welcome me in and lift my spirits every morning. Environmentally, the pandemic hasn’t been all bad, after all. Going out less has made us eco-friendlier, willy-nilly (usually nilly). We’ve hardly travelled, eaten out or visited public venues. We’ve also (despite Amazonian temptations) spent less. Most meetings and learning sessions now take place online. Much of the ‘new normal’ and its beneficial impact should outlive the lockdowns and restrictions, and some changes for the better may turn out to be permanent. Meanwhile, climate-change deniers seem thinner on the ground and less vociferous than a few years ago. Eco-thinking and green issues are becoming mainstream among media purveyors and legislators, schoolchildren and the twitterati. Across the board, we’re becoming more eco-savvy (‘eco-savvier’?). Advice in profusion (such as Good Energy’s 20 tips) is available to anyone who can go online. Researching and recognising problems are key. If we use reliable sources — rather than social-media bubbles that propagate fake news and conspiracy theories — we can access true facts at lightning speed. Reputable media, with their high-quality articles and documentary films, report on experts’ findings and supply us with a constant, copious flow of statistics and scientific evidence. TV networks and (especially) David Attenborough and his team are doing their stunning best. In the UK and worldwide, perhaps the most encouraging news on the environmental front is about renewable sources’ fast-growing share of the energy we generate and use. The UK is among the world’s largest producers of offshore wind power and a leader in the sector, where investments surged in 2020. We may not quite fulfil Boris Johnson’s October 2020 pledge that this country will generate enough electricity from offshore wind to power every UK home within a decade, but we seem to be well on the way. Piecemeal progress is evident. Consumption of red and processed meats is declining; veganism, vegetarianism and variants of the same are on the rise. Many of us take fewer baths and/or spend less time in the shower, and some of us have turned our central-heating thermostats down a degree or two. With fewer vehicles on the road during the lockdowns, air pollution has at least temporarily decreased. Plastic bags are on the way out, and we’re becoming more aware of environmental hazards from microplastics to greenhouse gases. Language is evolving to reflect these and other positive trends. ‘Carbon footprint’ is now a familiar concept to many, and online tips on how to reduce our own (such as these 50) abound. Everyday products — tea bags included — are increasingly ‘eco-embedded’ (with improved environmental features, such as biodegradability, that consumers are no longer free to reject). ‘Secondhand’ always sounded . . . well, a bit shabby and inferior; now, charmingly, our charity-shop finds are ‘preloved’ and ‘vintage’ instead. And thrift is less often thought of as being stingy (or ‘cheap’ in the American sense). Much advice hardly needs repeating. But there are some good ideas we may never have considered. Have you dusted and cleaned the coils at the back of your fridge, or vacuumed your ventilation vents, recently? They’ll run more energy-efficiently if you do. Do you ever use facial wipes? Mine — the contents of the last packet I bought, at least ten years ago — are reused twice daily, over and over again. Freshly laundered and fluffy, they’re perfect for applying lotion and cleaning my dry old face. We all (or nearly all; certainly me) still have a long way to go. Multiple, ever more alarming environmental crises loom around us. How can we sort and reduce our waste more (much more) and achieve all the other massive changes required for humankind to stop ravaging the planet and reverse at least some of the many harmful trends? Can nature recover from our depredations? Sadly, innumerable animal and plant species have already been lost for ever in the past few decades, and the extinction rate is accelerating. Let’s try. Finding out what to do is a good start. No one has all the answers, but the ‘Rs’ are guidelines that usefully sum up many of them, We need to reflect on and rethink our habits, lifestyles and consumption; reduceour purchases of non-essentials and food imported from distant lands, and the waste we generate, where possible; refuse to waste natural resources, and reject over-packaged consumer goods; and repair, reuse and repurpose (recycle) as much as we can, from clothing to furniture. How can we lessen our destructive impact on the natural world, and the climate change we’re causing? Can we learn to live cleaner, greener lives, in harmony with nature, before it is too late? Can we, as individuals, make a difference? Are we capable of creating a ripple effect among our families, friends, neighbours, colleagues and others, by example and spreading the word? Much more can be done if the local and national politicians we elect make it happen. They too should try harder to get clued up about the environment, what can and must be done, and what other, more successful countries (such as Sweden) are doing. They must impose laws and regulations to ensure recovery and appropriate processing of reusable waste components (such as the metals, plastic and so forth in our vehicles, white goods, electrical appliances and electronic devices) on a much larger scale. They need to provide better and more comprehensive incentives for better home insulation. Rotting (composting) all waste of organic origin — and using the compost to replenish soils and grow more food, as well as other plants and trees — are other key actions for local and national governments not only to encourage but themselves to take. And by restoring natural habitats for disappearing animals and plants — rewilding areas, however small (including parts of our gardens and parks) — we can at least help to slow down the rate of species extinction. Together, all these ‘Rs’ can be summed up in another: admitting responsibility for current damaging trends and tackling the task of doing everything we can — as individuals, as communities of all kinds and sizes, and as nations — to reverse them. Science is on our side, and much hope-inspiring innovation is under way. We might be in the 59th minute of the 12th hour, but if humankind can fill the final unforgiving minute with ‘sixty seconds’ worth of distance run’, we have a last, precious, sporting chance.

 Editor’s note: This is the first of a regular column , ‘Embracing the Green’,from Clare James. Former EFL teacher, now translator and editor, Clare is a voracious reader, traveller and lifelong learner with a keen interest in nature, conservation, biodiversity and green issues generally. She has had the privilege of living in places as diverse as North London and New Delhi, Lahore and Karachi, Serengeti National Park and Nairobi, the Camargue and Stockholm. Now happily settled and enjoying life in Dorset, she is looking forward to travelling again (Sweden at its most glorious, in late May or June?), and socialising more (with fellow Lib Dems, among others).

© 2024

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑