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An Insect’s Lament
“Where have all the plants gone”
Said the Beetle to the Fly
“Oh, They call them weeds and spray them
Then they shrivel up and die”
“I don’t know why They do it”
Said the fly so wistfully
“It seems They want to wreck our homes
Why can’t They leave us be”
“They’re destroying what they care about
The things that give life worth
We insects, bees and butterflies
And even Mother Earth”
“Perhaps one day They’ll realise
When all the harm is done
That to live at peace with Nature
Is best for everyone
“Now why has she written that?” I hear you say, “And what has it got to do with the Rec?” A perfectly fair question! Well this year marks the 60th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s seminal work “Silent Spring’. In the book she warned about the consequences of waging chemical war on the environment with our increasing reliance on toxic pesticides. It was very prescient and her warnings back in 1962 have sadly been realised. We’ve seen insect numbers in catastrophic decline, which has impacted on all other species, as well as there being a hugely detrimental effect on soil fertility, and air and water quality. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have learned the lessons and our biodiversity continues to suffer. But hats off to Kelvin, the person in SCC who has responsibility for maintenance at the Rec, and who has agreed to a trial, forgoing the use of herbicides this spring.
Currently, glyphosate is sprayed annually at the base of the fencing around the Rec, because the mower can’t get close enough to that strip of grass, to cut it. The herbicide is undoubtedly efficient and cost effective, as anyone who’s noticed the scorched area along the fence line will know. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this ubiquitous product, more commonly known as Roundup, has consequences for the environment and potentially for people too. Not only does it destroy precious habitat for insects and other creatures, but it also upsets the balance of microbial bodies in the soil; and we’re only now discovering how vital that community is. The World Health Organisation has also classified the product as ‘probably carcinogenic’ and although the degree of risk is presumably linked to the quantity and frequency of use, it’s nevertheless concerning.
But here’s the rub. Kelvin has stressed that it is only a trial and if there are any problems they will have to go back to using the Roundup. So I’m guessing that a great deal about whether this trial is a success, or not, is down to us. Unfortunately we've been brought up to expect tidiness in our parks and public spaces. Some of us will recall a time when there were “Keep off’ signs on the highly manicured lawns, the obligatory rose beds and a display of annuals carefully arranged to spell out the name of the park, or some other greeting. But all that was very labour intensive and as councils have come under increasing financial pressure, a more relaxed look has become the norm, with an added benefit for wildlife. We’re also far more aware about the environmental cost of our previous style of gardening and are looking to work more harmoniously with Nature.
But are we ready for the next step; that is to pack away the pesticides and welcome the weeds? The grass will be mown as usual but the strip either side of the fence, having not been sprayed, will have a slightly scruffy feel….or I’d prefer the term ‘casual’. There will be long grass, and yes, there will be ‘weeds’. But it will provide a wonderful insect highway around the Rec to supplement the meadow and other planting that we’ve created. And why improve wildlife habitat on the one hand, whilst destroying it with the other.
So as long as we don’t treat this precious strip as a repository for litter and dog poo, or bombard the council with angry emails about failure to keep the Rec tidy, the trial will hopefully be deemed a success and the park could remain pesticide free. Let’s chill, embrace the weeds, and seek out some of the wonderful little critters that will hopefully take up residence there. With special thanks to Kelvin for agreeing to give this a try; now it’s up to us to make sure it’s a success!
By Denise Long