Eat or Neat?

You sort of assume that people understand what insects are for, then you meet them, the people I mean, and realise that you have made a wild leap of faith, a leap totally unjustified. If you are reading this then you probably understand my points, if not then it is a fair bet that you are sadly misinformed. We are destroying the ecosystem, unquestionably and one of the reasons we are doing it is because of vanity, wanting to look what some people think of as good.

The media, all of it, is there to sell you products, not to entertain or inform, just to keep you tossing dollars/pounds/euros or whatever into the bonfire of consumerism. You are told to look neat, tidy, ordered because if you don’t you are slovenly, without pride, no self-respect. This is why older people, like me, blanche when they see kids with faces full of piercings, arms full of tattoos, clothes barely fit for purpose. We do that because we are programmed from birth by our parents, by society, by the underlying values we attach to things. You’ll have guessed by now that I am going to write about mowing lawns.

We have a good-sized lawn where we live and it has been mowed into submission by the previous tenants and subsequent helpers since installation. Prior to lawn it would have been mostly Alder scrub but with a broad diversity of plants, flowering plants. Then it was cleared, the house built and the yard stripped and turfed and it became a green desert, barren, just grass. Now grass is great if you are feeding an ungulate, but since most people are not then what is it for. I suspect it is a subconcious extension of the interior of the house for some people, a growing carpet, it says that this space is mine and I control it. The manufacturers of products that keep it under control are happy with that, you are their sort of person.

That their products will ultimately be to your detriment shouldn’t be allowed to put you off, surely all well water has that pesticide tang.

When we moved in last year, the lawn had been cut right up to the point where we signed the documents transferring ownership, so it was quite grassy when we arrived and the wild flowers were thriving. We snipped and trimmed and left bits to see what we got. Our neighbour said there were no butterflies, we had loads. Allowed to run its natural course, the lawn produced a broad range of previously suppressed flora, including orchid species. If a plant community could exhale in relief at finally being in the care of someone who understood it, then that was our lawn.

In small communities people like to know who is new, what they are like and where they came from. We are exotic, British – which is a place way past Shelburne, and we also became known as the people who don’t mow their lawn! Nobody passing ever asked, nobody wondered why we spent so much time fixing the house up but didn’t lavish the sort of care they expected a lawn to receive. We did have offers of the loan of a ride-on mower, instantly rebuffed. But nobody wanted to know why we let the grass grow under our feet, so here, in this piece, is why.

I mowed the lawn this week, again, cutting a neat strip about 4m wide and a path around the outside. Now I have to manage the middle bit, possibly with selective cutting using a strimmer/weed-whacker/whipper-snipper. I also intend to selectively weed out invasive and undesirable plants, namely hogweeds, although some will remain out back. I’ll keep the cut bit cut, and on the other side of the drive I’ll mow long, that is with the mower on its highest height setting. That will encourage the low-growing ground flora to flower while keeping the more competitive taller plants at bay. I’ll also keep a path around the outside as short as possible, this is where we intend to plant trees when they drop in price a bit, as is the custom post the spring planting frenzy. This strategy will give us diversity, it will give us our onw conservation area – there, I used a dirty word, conservation.

The cut lawn will have nil value save for being very short grass. It will have few insects that actually live in it and it will not produce any of the target visitors that the managed meadow (see what I did, went from lawn to meadow) we are trying to attract, they being the pollinators. To simplify a bit all that I have said so far.

Short grass just for the look of the thing, it has no value to us (humans).

Managed meadows alive with flowering plants will attract and maintain insects which pollinate other plants which we need to eat, and, of course, we get to enjoy the Butterflies, Hoverflies, Grasshoppers and Crickets and especially the Bees, thank you Bees.

Simplified further, in the context of the long-term survival of our species. Mowed grass = no survival, managed = we live. Kind of simple isn’t it.

The Governments really should pass a law requiring all home owners throughout the western world who have a lawn of a certain size to manage a percentage of it for wildlife. They should also teach kids from an early age the value of keeping our insect populations healthy by managing for them. If they don’t the human race will die off, it is the daddy of no-brainers.

You can find, within these pages, our yard list of birds. I’ll be adding pages for dragonflies, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, flowering plants and anything else I find while exploring our very own site of special scientific interest. Hopefully, if you are a lawn-demon, you might think a bit harder about what you are doing. It might seem to be a tiny space surrounded by the desert of green carpets. There is a word for is, we call it an oasis.