Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Planting Hedges In The Face Of Frustrating Environmental News





I read the news today that Andrea Leadsom (Secretary for Farming the Environment), is going to use Brexit to scrap the three crop rule, with a sinking but unsurprised heart. The three crop rule was brought in by the EU to encourage diversification on farms, benefitting wildlife and giving our over-worked soils a chance to recover. The links between the dominance of mono-culture in our farmed environment, the decline in wildlife and the denuding of soil nutrients is well documented, but it seems the Minister won't allow scientific evidence to inform her judgement. Why should she trouble herself with a basic understanding of how soil nutrients work, when there are such things as agri-chemicals which can be used to prop up exhausted soils forever, thereby giving the illusion of permanent fertility?

Ms Leadsom's view is that the three crop rule isn't needed in the UK because our patchwork of fields makes mono-culture less mono. But intensive farming on any scale relies heavily on chemical sprays and in smaller fields that means more field margins, whether they be hedges or woodlands will be effected by spray-back, something Europe has been working hard to minimise. Field margins are valuable wildlife resources and are currently offered a degree of protection by buffer zones, set-aside strips paid for by EU stewardship schemes, but presumably these will soon be on the way out too as they take up space that could be used for growing crops.

It's looking like wildlife will be, as feared, collateral damage of our choice to remove the protective wing of Europe from our land. But then wildlife is all too often seen as an unfortunate by-product of the natural world, an inconvenience that stands between us and a never-ending supply of the kind of crops we want and a booming economy. There is much truth in the old adage that people only save what they love or value. I don't know how we re-engage people to the extent that they care enough to make a noise whenever one of our politicians makes a decision that will directly negatively impact our wild cousins.

I am far more upset about this than I was about Trump, and Lord knows that was bad enough. I don't know how DEFRA can continue to call itself DEFRA without blushing. It would be more honest to call it DF, because concern for the non-farmed part of the Environment doesn't seem to come into it's decision making processes at all.

In the face of this depressing but predictable start-of-the-slippery-slope into the loss of yet more wild things and wild places, and as a defiant gesture to Ms Leadsom and her ilk, we have planted two hedges at home. One is at the top of the garden and one at the bottom. Neither are huge; one extends an existing hedge and will provide a wildlife corridor down the length of the garden up to the ponds, and the other (about 5m long) is brand new and will form a protective edge for the new perennial wildlife garden. Both contain a mix of native species: Hazel, Field Maple, Hawthorn, Privet, Guelder Rose and Spindle, chosen for their benefit to wildlife.

They've been in a day and already the Song Thrush has been poking about at the base of the newly planted saplings, turning earth over carefully looking for worms, annoying the Blackbirds who are very suspicious indeed of their speckledy cousin; the Robins have flown over to sit on the wall and watch proceedings (I am assuming one of them is the Robin who came into our bedroom yesterday and left two calling cards, before making his way back out into the garden unaided), and the wren flew off shouting at me loudly from beneath the baby hedge this morning. Threaded through the bottom of the hedge we have planted copious quantities of spring bulbs so the bees and butterflies, moths, hoverflies and beetles will be happy too.

Spring is heading our way. The Spring that the wild things listen to, not the calendar Spring that humans cleave to. The Long Tailed Tits have reappeared, as have the Starlings and the Siskins. Greater Spotted Woodpeckers are drilling in the woods and the Stock Doves have been making their engine-revving calls from trees by the lake. The Robins are securing territories, throwing back their chests to show off their impressive redness; the Ravens are checking out nest sites; Honey Bees are on the wing and I found a Peacock butterfly sleeping on the wall of the house last week. Great Tits are calling for mates and Mistle Thrushes are singing deep in the woods. The dominant Fox pair have been verbally beating the bounds at midnight, making certain everyone knows this is their patch by taking turns to shout and call and the Tawnys, who mate earliest of all the owls, have been singing to one another through the frost and the stars.

I appreciate that juggling wildlife needs with farming is not a simple feat, (and also know that a great many farmers take their wildlife responsibilities seriously and do stirling work for wildlife- friends of ours among them) but do the politicians given responsibility for a department that's meant to keep an eye out for wildlife really have to be so firmly in one camp that they ignore the needs of the other completely?

I'm not sure they've understood the simplicity of the message that says if our wildlife goes we won't be far behind it. We are far more reliant on the complex web of subtle connections that links a bee with an ivy flower, and an ivy flower with a hedge, and a hedge with a woodland, and a woodland with a dormouse, and a dormouse with a weasel, and a weasel with a beetle, and a beetle with a bat, and a bat with a flower and that flower with our food than any of us yet fully understand.  

A couple of summers ago while doing some voluntary work for Butterfly Conservation a man asked a colleague why should I care about butterflies? What's a butterfly ever done for me? The answer that they provided him with the food he ate, the air he breathed, the water he drank, the soil he trod, the temperature regulation he relied on to survive didn't change his opinion, because the ways and means that these things work by are so subtle most of us never think about them. We take the support systems that make our lives on this planet possible completely for granted and never think that one day they might fail.

Allowing farms to turn thousands of acres over to producing one kind of crop alone is a step on that path towards ecosystem failure. You only have to walk through these mono-culture deserts in summer to feel the complete emptiness of the landscape- it is utterly devoid of any life but the crop that is growing there. Venture into a wildflower meadow, or a hay meadow, or a farm that rotates its crops and puts in wildlife strips and manages its hedges and coppices its woodlands sympathetically and you'll have trouble counting all the species you see and hear.

I'm on my soap box and I'm not apologising. I'm more fed up than I can say that with all the wealth of evidence pointing in one direction, the so-called educated people elected to look after our land are blindly going in the other direction.

CT.


28 comments:

  1. Thanks to Sam for emailing this directly. I hope no one else has had trouble leaving comments? CT.

    'Oh, it is disheartening in the extreme. The landowner and farming lobby is very powerful in Westminster, although there surely must be farmers and landowners who care deeply about diversity. I think you should send a copy of this post to Ms Leadsom by whatever means possible – try and get to her directly. Shall we march on her office?! We're filling the gaps in our hedges with wildlife-friendly species here, too – it all helps a tiny bit. Sam xx'

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    1. Thanks Sam for the suggestion. I have emailed her with a link to the post. We'll see what, if anything, comes back. I am genuinely interested in her reply. CT x

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    2. If you don't hear back in a week or so post a paper copy. I posted a letter to Philip Hammond after not getting a reply with an e mail.He did reply to that. It didn't change anything but at least you share your opinion. Good luck.

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  2. Oh dear, doesn't sound a good start to the year.☹

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    1. Nope, and the start of more I suspect x

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  3. With you all the way. The absolute disregard for the importance of a diverse wildlife makes me want to weep.

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    1. Thanks Ellen. It's just so short-sighted, this focus on immediate economic gain. I worry they'll wake up and see the damage they've caused, or contributed to, or allowed to happen only when it's too late. One wonders what more evidence these people need to see that we're trashing our natural world, when we as a species are utterly reliant on it. It's complete madness.

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  4. I am from an entirely different country, but it seems it boils down to greed everywhere. Wishing you a lot of luck, you are doing a right thing, but it's hard to be very optimistic.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. It is hard not to feel frustrated and disheartened at the way this kind of thing keeps happening, but we fight on!

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  5. Well said! Thanks for writing this, it's so informative and interesting. I agree - send a copy to Ms Leadsom, let us know what she replies! Ricketyrambler.com

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    1. Many thanks, Julie. If nothing else it's good to know how many people agree and care about out wildlife. It gives me hope!

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  6. Dear CT
    Whatever we think about the EU, their directives provide a lot of safeguards for wildlife and plants. I don't think that the government (and I mean whichever party is in power) seems to share your (and our) concerns for the future of our country's wildlife and habitats. That is indeed worrying.
    It makes it even more important for gardeners and non-gardeners alike to do whatever we can, in whatever way we can, to help.
    A very thought provoking post.
    Best wishes
    Ellie

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  7. Well done for the hedge planting! Sadly as Jersey is not part of the EU we have gone our own farming way for many years. Primary crop, new potatoes. Fields planted with the same crop year on year. Massive use of chemical sprays because of mono crop. Our wildlife in certain areas is non existent. Recently taking Uk's example there was an attempt to rotate with rape etc. But only minimally. Sounds like a totally blinkered vision for the long term. It will only be through people power that we keep our wildlife. A sad day. B xx

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  8. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say. It's grim and depressing news indeed. And so it begins. I am a mixture of fury and despair. We have lost so much already. CJ xx

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  9. Good post, great points, we can only wait and see, which is a shame as we were heading into a good direction.

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  10. Terrible greed, high powered businessmen and governments that allow such things will eventually kill everything on earth. This is a worldly epidemic. Very sad indeed. Excellent article.

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  11. I totally agree with your views CT! It never ceases to astound me the stupidity of politicians! Clearly this women has no idea!
    Your post should be sent to her and the newspapers!
    Everything at the expense of wild things... it's just not right!
    So glad you have a wildlife corridor in your garden!
    You have every right to be on your soapbox! X

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  12. A brilliant piece of writing, well done and it deserves a wider audience than just your blog. The rapid spread of new housing developments are also something that see wildlife as something that gets in the way of what they want to do. I've been a voluntary warden of a National Nature reserve on marshes her in North Kent for 30 years and fortunately, because the two huge arable farms that surround the reserve also have big game shooting interests, they still maintain a large amount of hedging, small thickets and set-aside areas.

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  13. Maybe post a copy of this to The Times as well? Well done on your hedges too. xx

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  14. This is so depressing news CT and not a good start to the year but I hope you and our family have a very HAPPY NEW YEAR

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  15. Thanks for the heads up on this. I was going to suggest that you email Leadsom. I'll be interested to see her reply.

    Jean

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  16. I have so much to say on this subject that I could scream.
    For me it is living in a very sensitive eco desert and the people who abuse it. The Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Al Gore do nothing about it because the illegal immigrants/cartels = Democrat votes.
    Maybe I will write about this again one day on my blog.
    Good Luck you live in a most beautiful place and I hope you can save it.
    What works here if and it is a big if you have to call and really keep calling congress (here in the States) and they have to log in how many calls come in for or against.
    Good Luck.

    cheers, parsnip

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  17. oh, CT...my heart is breaking for you and the wild things. i'm almost ashamed to admit that this sort of thing seems to affect me more deeply than most other news...this is what makes me angry, this is what stirs me to action.

    Monoculture is king over here...at least in our area. With the exception of occasional hay fields, it's corn or soy. All to feed livestock. Don't even get me started. Natural hedging is removed to let the stupid great machines in...our landlord rented a few plots on this property to some soy-head and he had the bald nerve to hack off the edges of some trees so he could get his sodding poison-sprayer in....if looks could kill, he'd have expired several times over.

    anyway. it's a shared soapbox, my dear...and do keep talking. it's the only way to get the word out....and just keep planting...xoxoxo

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  18. That prospect was what made me sad in the runup to Brexit - the environment will suffer.

    May your two hedges flourish and thrive!!

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  19. try being a fisherman. We have over 90% of the world's chalk stream environment in Hampshire/Wiltshire and Dorset. Yes over 90% and it being destroyed because water is undervalued and so when each new development comes on line the water is simply pumped out of the ground. We are destroying something that exists no where else in the world and no one cares. If we valued water correctly we would either build where the water is or construct more reservoirs to store winter rain. These are not options that are ever considered as no-one wants to live up North, because the jobs are down south and we cannot construct reservoirs because they destroy the country side. When the whole of the south of England is concreted over with a few irrigated field for decorative cattle do not come moaning to me.

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  20. I'm with you on this, CT. I'm also furious and depressed at DEFRA once again. Big commercial interests always seem to prevail and wildlife seems to be seen as a luxury, not a necessity (as it is)
    That's great that you planted the hedges. Such a wonderful thing to do for our wildlife.

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  21. Our fears over leaving the EU are unfortunately being realised. It is not a good start to the New Year. Sarah x

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x