Thursday, 28 June 2007

The countryside in your back garden

There are many people who, for whatever reason, are unable to enjoy the countryside proper. Instead, their interactions with the natural world are restricted to the wildlife that visits them in their homes and gardens. While some may view garden wildlife as uninteresting or commonplace, and gardens themselves as a highly managed and artificial habitat, more and more researchers are discovering the tremendous wildlife value of our lawns, borders and shrubberies. Put simply, gardens support wildlife – lots of wildlife. Now, most of this wildlife is not big or showy, nor necessarily that attractive, but it is there and it has great value. While your garden may not be heaving with dozens of different bird and mammal species it will have a myriad of invertebrates, from ground beetles, solitary wasps, flies and other bugs down to even smaller creatures like nematode worms, soil micro-organisms and bacteria. The thing is, you don’t tend to notice, or appreciate, all of this wildlife.

One of the problems with this wildlife being overlooked and undervalued is that gardens themselves are undervalued. This has led to the government classifying urban gardens as ‘brownfield sites’, alongside old industrial land earmarked for development. Over recent years, this reclassification has led to a process known as garden grabbing – whereby property developers buy up houses with large gardens to demolish and replace them with high density housing. Needless to say, high density housing means low density green space and wildlife is pushed out. You might think that this is a sensible solution to the problem of urban sprawl and the pressure placed on Greenfield sites within the wider countryside but it is not as simple as that. You see, much of our wider countryside – at least much of that portion under intensive arable monocultures – is actually pretty poor for wildlife. For example, the foraging opportunities in gardens for bumblebees are far richer than those on offer within most arable farmland. If you lose the larger gardens with their nectar and pollen sources then you lose the bees. We, as human beings, also lose out – starved of our contact with the natural world. Having green space into which you can retreat, to take a breath of fresh air or to enjoy watching wildlife going about its business, is incredibly important to our well-being. To divorce ourselves from the world around us goes against the core of human nature. We are part of the natural world and we have an innate fascination and longing for the comforting presence of other creatures. Such encounters reinforce our sense of belonging, strengthening our place as part of a wider community of life. We should cherish our gardens and the wildlife they contain.

No comments:

Post a Comment