Not Just Climate Change…

In My View… by Patrick O’Sullivan, Energy and Environment Coordinator, SE Cornwall Labour

There never was such a year for blossom; at least not for some time. Everywhere blackthorn, wild cherry and now domestic fruit trees are making a wonderful show. And the warmest April for seventy years coincided with two weeks of Extinction Rebellion demonstrations in London, and the visit of Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old Swede who began School Strikes for Climate. Are these indicators of climate change? Probably not! Short-term weather variations are not themselves signs of climate change, a process which operates on rather longer time scales.

And as the new Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services IPBES report indicates, the problem is not just climate change, but global mass extinction of species, some of whom, for example bees and hoverflies, are key pollinators of precisely those blossoms we are currently enjoying. And I sometimes wonder just how much of this extinction is due to the lack of joined-up thinking I observe operating locally at precisely this time of year.

Most springs, an extensive bloom of what we used to call Lady’s Smocks or Cuckoo Flowers (when there were cuckoos!) flourishes along the verges and roundabouts in Plymouth Road, Liskeard, especially alongside Morrison’s and Argos. Yet in each of the last three years, someone has mowed these areas flat, just as those flowers were in full bloom, or about to set seed. And just last week it happened again! Why? Disappearance of such species from farmland means that nowadays, road margins and roundabouts are some of the most important habitats for wild flowers and their pollinators, and surely should be managed as such. But to me, many mowing policies now in operation, despite various local councils’ formal commitments to biodiversity, seem designed to achieve the opposite, serving only to favour vigourous, deep-rooted species such as docks and dandelions.

When I mention this and other episodes of casual destruction of wild flowers in full bloom, or their habitats, to local councillors, I discover that questions of who is responsible for such policies are often complex. But if we are to manage local habitats so that key species are not extinguished by default, we surely need to rationalise administrative systems so that areas of responsibility are clear, with the emphasis on empowering local communities. Fortunately, Labour’s current National Policy Consultation includes proposals on Local Economic Development which include a commission whose aim is increasing the power of communities to shape development of their local areas with just such issues in mind.

Meanwhile, is there anything we ourselves can do? In the case of mature lawns, we can keep mowers or strimmers off them until at least mid-June, so that any spring flowers present have the chance to bloom, and also set seed. Or why not sow these areas, or any new lawns, with wild flower seeds, and manage them as ‘bee and blossom’ gardens? Plenty of organisations will supply us. And we can try to resist those urges to ‘tidy up’ unkempt bits of garden or allotment. Tidiness is, in many ways, the enemy of wild nature!

First published in The Cornish Times, 17/05/19

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