Tuesday, 18 August 2009

An unintended nature reserve

There is a small patch of grass on the way to work that was, for many years, mowed to the level of a bowling green. Neatly manicured as this was, it had little in the way of wildlife value, serving only to support the local travellers, kids making doughnuts on their motorbikes and the flock of feral geese who largely live off the handouts delivered by local residents. Then, last year, the area was left uncut (the more cynical might suspect that this was done as a deterrent against the travellers) and allowed to develop into an area of wildlife-rich rank grassland. Cut towards the end of last summer, it has again been allowed to develop largely untouched this year.

A narrow margin of cut grass along the edge and a cut path through the middle, tip a hat to the fact that its future is still very much under our control; this area is being managed but it is being managed for wildlife. And that’s a good thing because this small block is now alive with invertebrate life. There is the steady high-pitched reeling call of Roesel’s Bush Crickets, a species whose range expansion across the county has been a striking feature of recent years. There are the softer calls of various grasshoppers, the soft drone of dozens of different species of fly and the sight of grassland butterflies rising and falling just above the grasses.

It is not just grasses that are present; there are flowers and, along the back edge, where a strip of woodland separates cuts down towards the river, there are nettles and umbellifers in profusion. Right in the middle is a patch of thistles which are now setting seed. A steady stream of fluffy seeds lifts up from the plants, caught on the breeze to be deposited elsewhere, a short-lived flurry of botanical snow. Splashes of yellow highlight small clumps of Ragwort, the flowers visited by small hoverflies and even smaller beetles. The occasional Hornet patrols lower over the grasses, its ginger-yellow waspish form purposeful as it seeks prey. On the umbellifers there are even more insects and, additionally, many snails. These snails are pinky-yellow in colour, with dark brown spirals and a dark lip, though there is much variation in colour between them. The snails are secure within their shells, sealed to reduce water loss on these hot, late-summer days.

Each time I pass this patch of grass I wonder for how much longer it will remain. The contractors, with their strimmers and ride on mowers, are sure to return and the grass will be levelled. Let’s hope the cut comes at the season’s end and that the meadow will return next year.

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