EARTHLY DELIGHTS Garden lawns can become pollinator friendly when just left alone to flower. Pic: Michael Kingdon
Country Sights and Sounds
What a month May can be! Every waking hour our ears are filled with birdsong. Orange tip, green-veined white, meadow brown and more fill wild places where their food plants are permitted to grow. Trout are properly fat once more. Mayflies appear on the lake shore, giant May bugs crash-land through open windows, May blossom turns the hedgerows white. It is a month of arching rainbows, of bright, clear colours and clean air.
In 2019 British wildflower charity Plantlife designated May as a No-Mow month, hoping that householders across the United Kingdom would catch on to the idea that lawns could be left uncut for at least a couple of weeks, allowing plants that have been desperately trying to grow an opportunity to bloom and set seed.
According to Plantlife, the extent of wildflower meadow loss throughout the UK is somewhere in the region of 7.5 million acres. (For context, England and Wales jointly cover about 37 million acres.) A good deal of that loss is swallowed up by agriculture and food production, but a significant amount is lost to housing too.
The depletion of wild flowers has a knock-on effect on biodiversity, with important pollinator species in severe decline and other insects following suit. Bird and mammal populations are also affected, and so is the human family. So the concept of No-Mow May arose, and while this hasn’t proven any kind of panacea for biodiversity loss, it has certainly helped people see they can make a valuable contribution to the natural world.
While we here in the west feel somewhat insulated against the loss of wildlife taking place elsewhere, there is no room for complacency. We are losing species as well. Aggressive hedge cutting, tree felling and scrub removal continue apace, and along with habitat destruction comes the pushing back of plants and animals that previously depended on those wild places.
Not cutting the grass for a few weeks might lead to an increased workload further down the line, but isn’t it worth it? I make no apology for my unkempt lawn with its pretty blues of forget-me-not and speedwell.
A hare came loping in last week. A long, tall fellow, he was. Sharp-eared and bright-eyed, he made a round of the garden before settling at the foot of one of my fruit trees to sniff at the bark. I knew what he was thinking. How nice a bit of apple bark would be; just the thing to go with all those herbs he’d had for breakfast!
A rap at the window set him on edge. He lay flat with his ears along his back, imagining himself invisible. I had the chance to study him a bit while he put on a pretense of dozing. Yet even though his eyes were shut his nose was testing the air continually. When I see him from afar he appears uniform in colour – close up he is a combination of many shades: grey and brown together, with black-tipped guard hairs along with strands of ginger, cream and white.
I moved from one window to another better placed, and when I looked again he was gone, back to the wild, and there, sniffing at his seat was that dog. He calls by only when it suits; I imagine he has many gardens to visit. He hopes to find food put out for the fox, which has tired of having me poke around her nest and has taken her babies away. Foxes will do that. Moving home is nothing to them.
She still calls by at night for food. On the other hand, perhaps I am feeding that dog instead.
An old farmer told me how to get rid of an unwanted cur. First, feed him well and make friends. Then take a yard of string with a loop at one end and a tin can containing a small stone at the other, and fasten the loop to the dog’s hind leg. When the dog moves, so does the tin. The instinct is to move away, yet the tin follows with an ominous rattle.
Once the dog hits the road the noise increases and away he goes at top speed, right back to where he belongs, wondering what this thing at his tail could be, a-bouncing and a-rattling as if ready to do him in.
He will, I am assured, never be back. I’ve never put this to the test. One more unpleasant surprise with the strimmer and that might change. But that must wait for June, for this is No-Mow May.
Michael Kingdon formerly wrote these columns under the pseudonym John Shelley. A naturalist and keen fisherman, he lives close to the shores of Lough Carra.