Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Coventry Canal Greenway

Took the bike in the car on my third visit to Frau Honorarkonsulin in Coventry within the last 18 months or so (for yet another "Unterschriftenbeglaubigungssession", but that's just by the by), with a view to "trying" the Coventry Canal Greenway from Coventry Canal Basin to Hawkesbury Junction, which I had been meaning to do for some time.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Gardening the Countryside?

An article which appeared in the Mercury (9 July) about Leicestershire grass verges and mowing, together with some more recent comments, raises important questions and challenges, both from a local authority and individual perspective.

Leicester Friends of the Earth suggests that there is no argument at all that vegetation should be mown on safety grounds in places where sight lines on left hand bends, junctions and other places for safety purposes require necessary visibility. However, many areas of roadside verges are mown completely unnecessarily. Not only has valuable habitat been destroyed but often looks a mess left with desiccated cuttings. Surely it is far more aesthetically pleasing to see lush green vegetation with colourful wild flowers.

On a more general note it is easy for a councillor to report about being ‘inundated’ with letters from constituents about overgrown verges; however for every constituent that sends in a letter of complaint, there are others who either do not care one way or another or tacitly approve of verges being left to grow longer, so letters alone are not always representative of true opinion. How many actual people walk on verges on a regular basis anyway? Who exactly is offended and why?

If anything is an eyesore, one only needs to look at the mess of the development which is happening on the green wedge between Leicester and Glenfield – a site of environmental vandalism.

There appear to be two main issues here; money to be made out of mowing contracts and obsessions about what is perceived as ‘overgrown’ vegetation and the need for ‘tidiness and order’. Both of these areas are badly in need of some remedial thinking. Even though some areas may look temporarily untidy until the end of summer cut, this is done for a purpose to allow seeds to mature.

The people making money out of local authority mowing will obviously want to create as much work for themselves as possible and those citizens who like to see stripy lawns instead of natural surroundings need to realise that not everyone shares that view and they may even benefit from some ecological education.

Graham Stocks, a local conservationist said:

“Recently, I met a gang setting up their strimmers ready to mow the paths through a nature trail. Along part of this trail I had recently recorded Pink Purslane, aka Siberian Spring Beauty (Claytonia sibirica) and pointed this out to the mowing gang, informing them that it was very rare in Leicestershire and that it should be left untouched. You can guess the rest – I returned the next day to find that a metre wide strip on each side of the paths had been strimmed. I’m guessing that these people had a plan drawn up under contract and carried out that plan to the letter. They get paid, we lose out on experiencing biodiversity – on a nature trail of all places!
Roadsides are really no different. The problem is that most of us these days are townies and have little contact with the natural world.”

Which would you rather look at?



There is a golden opportunity for us all to create and enjoy mini-wildflower meadows. Loughborough is competing in Britain in Bloom and a couple of years ago some roadside verges were planted with a wildflower mix – and beautiful they were too. Some residents in Loughborough have even taken to guerrilla gardening by mowing verges themselves. Although a significant number of us are extremely concerned with the loss of flora and fauna, such as bumblebees and honeybees, etc., it’s as though others can’t resist gardening the countryside, like straightening a crookedly hanging picture on a wall.

Most flowering plants have their growing points well above ground level. Chop these off and they don’t survive, especially if they haven’t had a chance to produce mature seeds. Keep mowing and all that will survive are grasses and ‘rosette species’ of flowering plants – things such as daisies and dandelions. The obsessives would no doubt advocate the use of herbicides along verges to completely wipe out any broad-leaved plants. Disturbingly, many gardens are following the same fate.

Like the highways they border, verges are important highways for wildlife.

Local resident James Davies said:

With natural habitat and wildlife being constantly attacked on all
fronts, it is paramount that we welcome biodiverse areas such as grass verges to provide a myriad of benefits across our nation. To those who unknowingly shun these vital spaces as nothing more than unsightly, I urge you to actually learn and see these for the bountiful benefits to our wildlife, air quality and mental well being that they abundantly provide."

Leicester City is more enlightened than most; within some of its parks and squares where grass is allowed to grow longer around the edge whilst providing well mown paths for people.

Stuart Bailey, Leicester Civic Society, said:

“I should have honestly thought that in this day and age, leaving verges to grow naturally wild was
an obvious thing to do. It saves money on endless cutting as well as encouraging natural habitats."

Coventry has recently planted its central strips of grass along carriageways with wildflowers and this is also happening in other parts of the country. What’s not to like? Less formal flowers like this take care of themselves with less maintenance and are of huge benefit to bees and other insects.

Jack Riggall, a trainee ranger said:

"Allowing roadside verges to grow has a huge range of benefits for struggling wildlife; they potentially connect & extend otherwise isolated habitats, provide cover for mice & voles and they attract bats, shrews & hedgehogs who benefit from the wider range of insects. This in turn has benefits for predators such as polecats, foxes, kestrels and barn owls. The entire complex food chain is going to benefit if verges are treated sensitively as wildlife habitats & corridors for movement between larger habitats."

With continuous development resulting in habitat loss, we have to put something back and all have a collective responsibility to ensure that biodiversity flourishes, not just for the present generation but for future generations to come and we have no right whatsoever, to deny them that opportunity. The fact that reduced mowing saves on costs is surely a massive bonus. The councillors defending fewer cuttings should be commended for sticking to their guns. Leicestershire had a reputation for its ecological credentials and has the opportunity to enhance this.

Michael Sackin for Leicester Friends of the Earth said:

“Following a national bee campaign in recent years, verges have to be beneficial for bees as well as other insects, provided the right flowers are allowed to grow. If everything is cut to within an inch of its life there is likely to be no life at all.”

Councillors and contractors alike would benefit from the appropriate training and education in good ethical practice and to think more about the wider consequences of their actions. The economy is important, but economic growth without environmental limits is pure stupidity. Quality of life is perhaps more important which often means enjoying the things in life that are free and what we often take for granted, until it is gone forever.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hast Du Dein(en) Lunch gehabt?

IMAGE: Haim’s Quick-Lunch Restaurant menu. New York, 1906. NYPL, Rare Book Division. Found here.

A simple question, perhaps, but one which recently stimulated several other questions not so easily answered.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Hot today

Quote of the day, from today's editorial of The Conversation newsletter:
"It's going to be hot today. The sort of hot that even people from other countries actually count as hot".
1st July turned out to be the hottest day in Leicestershire for 147 years!

[Note added 20 July 2018: Unfortunately the Leicester Mercury link no longer works – perhaps it will be reinstated at some point. Meanwhile, the BBC News article of 1 July 2015 under the heading Hottest July day ever recorded in UK is relevant and interesting, too.]