Friday, 27 May 2011

Don't be too tidy-minded

It seems that the council has decided that the town needs to tidy up its image. Hot on the heels of a campaign to tackle those in our community unable to use the numerous litterbins, has been an assault on ivy and other bits of scrubby cover. It would seem that these habitats do not fit into the ideal of a green environment, rich in wildlife.

Ivy is a plant that is plagued by an unjustified reputation; I have even heard conservation practitioners repeat the false claim that it strangles trees and should be removed at every opportunity. The weight of a mass of ivy might bring down a rotten branch but that is an exception rather than the rule. What has been particularly frustrating about the latest bout of clearance has been its timing, the work coming just as many birds were starting their breeding season. The ‘ever green’ ivy provides much-needed nesting cover for birds at a time of the year when the deciduous cover has yet to get going.

There is another reason for the clearance of this scrubby cover from our urban greenspaces and that is the notion that it can shield and hide undesirable activities. While this may be true, surely the solution is to tackle those undesirable activities head-on, rather than shift them somewhere else.

One of the main reasons for our willingness to allow the reckless destruction of ivy, brambles and other scrubby vegetation is that most people have no idea of just how valuable it is for wildlife. Take someone out into a patch of urban green space and ask them to point out the places where birds might nest and the chances are that they will point up into the trees and taller hedgerows. Tell them that most birds nest within a metre or so of the ground and they will be surprised. Point out a blackcap nest in a low bramble or a robin nest in a nettle bed at the base of a tree and they will be stunned. Of course, it is not just the birds that use these habitats. Ivy is incredibly important for many insects, including those which visit to feed on the flowers or fruit. The holly blue butterfly, for example, has one of its two annual generations on ivy; the other is on holly.

It is our ignorance, and in particular the ignorance of those who manage our urban green space, that is behind this act of habitat vandalism. There is relatively little green cover in our towns as it is and it would seem churlish to prune and mow what remains into weak submission. We must stop being so tidy-minded.

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