Every year we are treated to the glories of the English spring – birds sing, the leaves come out, the sap rises and our spirits soar, so too the wildflowers spring up, festooning the verges and the very few green spaces still remaining in our city, yellow, white, purple, red, burrs to bells, petals to peas, a multicultural, multi-coloured riot of life of every shape and hue, their names redolent of beauty – marigolds, poppies, cinquefoil, pennywort, hair’s tail grass, dandelions, bluebells and brambles and that sticky stuff.
The butterflies flutter, tortoiseshells, the painted ladies, Blues, in a complex ecosystem that brings life to the city and joy to our hearts.
Then along come the Council mowers (Oxfordshire for roads) and smash it all up, yes it’s the annual May Day Massacre (should it be so late), and this wonderful effusion of life and joy is razed to the ground in a senseless and brutal destruction and the garden of Eden is left barren.
Order must be imposed on the chaos of Oxford!
Can anyone explain to me what is so attractive about grass cut less than an inch of its life? Monotonous, one dimensional – an artificial ecological desert almost devoid of life and its sustenance, with all the charm and subtly of a freshly scrubbed lavatory – and yet so appear our verges and too much of our parks.
What is this Victorian impulsion to tame nature, cut back and kill, to stake our claim, as if nature were our enemy, stay back foul fiend! This is ours! Keep Out!
Is this a reflection of us? Is that really who we are? Is that it?
We would rather dominate a desert than share Eden.
How did this happen? The officers I have spoken to are dedicated, hard-working and helpful.
With each successive cutting there are less seeds and less flowers next year, and, as only the grass survives this savage and wholly pointless assault, can we wonder it is seen as a mess?
We act like medieval peasants defending their crop rather than an enlightened ecologically aware society that knows it should live in harmony with nature and not declare war against it.
Our lips drip with the cant of the new church of Green, ecology, environment and emission reduction, yet there are two ways to cut carbon – reduce production, or increase absorption, so why this war on wildlife?
If we love and treasure our wildflowers and the birds, butterflies and all creatures great and small that depend on their habitat, why are we destroying it with such misplaced zeal?
What can we do?
Let’s start by adopting the recommendations of Alan Titchmarsh and The Charity Plantlife that demand that all councils should not cut any verges prior to the end of August and before the end of March:
But he is talking about 100’s of miles of rural verges in Oxfordshire alone, but in the urban context, with so little green space left, these are sooo much more precious, and we must go much further to save our ecological heritage.
Lets rip up the grass that has become dominant due to decades of mismanagement.
Bring in the ecologists, horticultural experts, involve the Friends of this, that and the other, let low traffic areas in parks return to nature, and provide grants for planting.
In Headington for example, engage the Oxford Preservation Trust (Barton Triangle), Ruskin College and Headington School ask them to review their mowing and planting strategies, there are large public and private green spaces in Headington where scarcely a single wildflower remains.
Let’s reduce the energy inefficient, gas guzzling CO2 producing, water absorbing, ecological deserts called lawns, let’s plant according to ecological value and not through some warped sense discipline and order.
Lets say farewell to the silent spring, senselessly smashed.
About eight years ago Cuckoo Lane behind Headington School was a riot of wildflowers, then moved in the mad mowers and it was all destroyed. I spoke to a Council Officer on site who promised she would put it on a late mow to help the wildflowers, two weeks later it was flattened again, a resident had complained it was mess and a helpful mower mashed it, so it is today, couch grass and mud.
I dream of a Headington where Cuckoo Lane is once again a riot of colour and a haven for wildlife, a walk of choice, where the verges of Dunstan and Osler Road flower late into the year amongst the buzz of insects, and children pick posies in Bury Knowle Park and take them proudly home to their mummies and daddies, where wildflowers are regarded as our friends and companions, to be kept close, nurtured and cherished in a city we should not call just our own.
Since this article was written, Oxford City Council has been leaving substantial sections of park unmown (Bury Knowle, Dunstan) so must be given fair credit for heeding the call, at least in the parks.
Adapted from a speech about six years ago to Oxford City Council.
Headington Heritage, A personal blog
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