It is uninteresting to contemplate mangled banks and verges … (with apologies to Darwin)

It is uninteresting to contemplate mangled banks and verges, clothed with few plants of fewer kinds, with no birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitted away, and with no worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that all those elaborately constructed forms, which were there before, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us, are but a shadow of what is there now after the mowers moved in.

Many will realise that is a parody of the fantastic poetic conclusion to Darwin’s  The Origin of species.

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, ……..

 

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That might baffle you why this photo is here and what it is.

It is the flower of one of 25 Southern Marsh Orchids mown down on a tiny grass verge in Lancashire. This flowered was beheaded or decapitated by someone unaware what it was, and perhaps it is reminiscent of the head of one of Henry VIII’s many victins on the executioner’s block.

Here is a fine specimen of a Southern Marsh Orchid a few hundred yards away and then the verge as it was early in June before the phantom mower came. The first is from an “amenity centre” which fortunately is not mown indiscriminately and one of a hundred along with a host of other flowers. The second is of the narrow verge of short grass where 25  orchids were flowering until 11th June 2020.

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That changed when it was mowed on the morning of 11th June. Wyre Council claim it was nothing to with them

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/06/13/decapitating-orchids-in-lancashire-environmental-vandalism/

The grass was so short. The first shows one surviving ording and the second a mangled one.

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Another example near Scorton of Red Campions and cow parsley just trashed.

 

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Mowing machines have been the scourge of lockdown this spring. I don’t mean those which you use (or shouldn’t have used) to mow your lawn, but the excess misuse of mowing machines on roadside verges this year. It’s not only Lancashire but every part of the country as mowers have gone in and removed the flora.

Consider the contrast both in beauty and wildlife of these two images taken from twitter

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Every day over the last few months I have noticed mangled banks and verges, where mowers have gone in to do their damage. I ought to explain that most days I go out for a 30 odd mile cycleride in the lanes of Lancashire. Rather than improve my speed, I prefer to see what is there and especially enjoy the wildlife, whether a hare, rabbits, stoats, various birds including the Purple Heron. I had a close shave when a buzzard nearly flew into me near Inskip. I also look at the flora and continually improve my skills of identification.

But as I saw the trashed flowers the words of the last paragraph of The Origin came to mind and then I decided to parady it in honour of the mowers.

It is uninteresting to contemplate mangled banks and verges, clothed with few plants of fewer kinds, with no birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitted away, and with no worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that all those elaborately constructed forms,  so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, which were there before,have all been produced by laws acting around us, are but a shadow of what was there before the mowers moved in. These new laws of environmental vandals, taken in the largest sense, being no Growth without Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost lost by lack of reproduction; invariability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of  the fossil-fueled mowing machines, and from extermination; a Ratio of Increase so low as to lead to an inevitable Death, and as a consequence to Unnatural Selection, entailing loss of Divergence of Character and the Extinction of all improved forms. Thus, from the war against nature, from moving, pesticide and herbicides, the most unexalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the loss of all fauna and flora, directly follows. There is no grandeur in this view of life, despite life having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved, are now being hurried to extinction by the wanton disregard of the Creator’s allegedly highest creation, the damned miscreator.

I have come across not only those decapitated orchids, but rare stands of Ragged Robin and Red and White Campions with their hybrids cut right down. I have only seen one example of those two floral gems. That is apart from  common wildflowers being mown down just before flowering. I blogged some details of the mowing here; https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/05/24/where-have-all-the-flowers-gone-stripped-from-verges-everyone/

The total area of road verges in Britain is immense as mile upon mile of 2 metre wide strips adds up to an awful lot, giving space for an immense diversity of flora and thus of insect, bird and mammal life. We cannot afford to lose it. It is comparble to domestic gardens which are increasingly hard-surfaced or put down to plastic grass.

Sadly , this mowing has taken place throughout the countries of the UK. Many have complained to their local councils.

I have complained to local councillors from Lancashire County Council and Wyre borough but have had no useful response.

In my twitter comments I also linked to the twitter accounts of Lancashire County Council and Wyre Borough Council, which elictied responses, which were unhelpful. LCC were quick to say verges were Wyre’s responsibility. But Wyre said that the verge with the orchids was not their remit. Even senior employees of either council gave me no answer. As a result I cannot say who was responsible and only deal with the results.

The results are very clear;

  • Mowers have no regard for flowers, whether common, or less so, in flower or in bud, and simply mow them down.
  • In many lanes a mown strip 2 to 3ft wide would be sufficient, but often anything up to 12 ft /4 metres from the road is mown, without regard to the flora.
  • often strips are mown right up to base of a hedge, if present, thus removing plants about to flower or in flower eg. ramsons, campions, ragged robin , various parsleys, Meadowsweet, vetchs etc.
  • A frequent appeal is for safety and visibility , but that would never require mowing back several metres from the road.

My observations also indicate that councils are not the only ones mowing, as it is often done by local farmers or residents, and, possibly other bodies.

I would suggest that every local council and councillors  need to be challenged on this by as many people as possible, until a better policy is implemented.

Despite by very much an amateur naturalist, it is clear to me that councils need good sound botanical advice to inform their mowing regime AND then enforce it.

I could go on, but will finish with quoting that final paragraph of Darwin’s Origin,  which is an excellent scientific picture of our natural world.

Have lived in Shrewsbury, Darwin must have ridden past many entangled banks as he travelled the area on his horse. Some of the best banks were on his various routes to Woodhouse, where his visited his first girl-friend Fanny Mostyn Owen, before he went to Cambridge.  The entangled banks near Downe House are equally gorgeous.

So I’ll give Darwin the last word, with a few of my photos.

The conclusion of The Origin of Species (1st ed)

 

 

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank,

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clothed with many plants of many kinds,

 

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with birds singing on the bushes,

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with various insects flitting about,

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and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

********

A most useful guide on how verges should be mown

 

https://www.plantlife.org.uk/application/files/3315/7063/5411/Managing_grassland_road_verges_Singles.pdf

5 thoughts on “It is uninteresting to contemplate mangled banks and verges … (with apologies to Darwin)

  1. Andrew Rainford

    I’m with you all the way on this Michael. Some people will cite road safety concerns about overgrown verges, farmers will say that leaving the verges to seed will encourage the spread of weeds and probably a majority of people will say that they prefer the countryside to look ‘tidy’.
    I would counter that by saying that mowing enables higher vehicle speeds so that the risk is not significantly altered.
    I am a farmer myself and would say arable fields have to have a weed spray anyway and permanent pasture has such a large weed seed bank that there is always something waiting to grow given the opportunity. As for the last point, well, some or maybe most people would consider my farm ‘scruffy’.
    Have you seen the industrialised conservation that is taking place on Cockerham moss?
    I would be interested in your thoughts on whether this is a good thing or the more passive conservation combined with agriculture that I practice is better.
    The best access is from my farm Crawley cross by following Crawleys dyke eastwards on to Winmarleigh moss , where the works will be difficult to miss.

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  2. michaelroberts4004 Post author

    Thank you for your comments . There is a balance between the extremes of ultra-environmentalism and “factory-farming”. I’ve been on the moss several times in the last year and approach it from the other end as I can get closer on a bike.
    In my garden I occassionally use roundup or a pesticide. In a farm you need to and hence the need for GMO. I suppose I’ve now identified myself as non- green.
    I often go past your farm.
    I presume you mean the transformation of the field north of the dyke?

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  3. Andrew Rainford

    No, you’d already done that with your views on fracking!
    Likewise, it always seemed sensible to explore the possibility of exploiting our own natural resources rather than shipping the stuff half way round the world with all the attendant costs and pollution of doing so.
    Yes, the field north of the dyke where they have stripped about 2 feet of peat off the surface and have dug perfectly parallel ditches and several ponds at no doubt huge expense.
    I presume they hope this area will rapidly become a bog again.
    Unfortunately, they have also exposed an area of sand and gravel subsoil, which I suspect will drain much of the water away into the aquifer.
    The peat they have extracted, having been exposed to oxygen will rapidly oxidise and effectively be destroyed. My understanding was that the purpose of buying the moss was to preserve it on the basis that it was one of the last raised peat bogs in the country.
    By removing several centuries worth of peat production, they have negated that in that it is no longer a raised peat bog!

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  4. michaelroberts4004 Post author

    I am afraid fracking GMO, organic and a few other things are so often litmus tests whether you are green or not. Whereas GMO and non-roganic in part is essentail tofeed the world.

    It would have been cheaper simply to stop the dykes draining the water and letting the field get soggy

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    1. Andrew Rainford

      Yes it would have been cheaper to block the dykes, but not as sexy as throwing hundreds of thousands of pounds of other people’s money at it. Might even have killed the trees that they are spending even more money on removing.
      A bit like the Environment Agency only being interested in investing in expensive coastal flooding, whereas a few pounds spent on replacing a failed hydraulic ram seal in the Garstang flood basin dam, or a bit of basic maintenance in the penstock at fluke hall would be far better value for money.

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