WILDLIFE AND THE DEATH OF THE COUNTRYSIDE

hand-pollination-in-china1Take a really good look around you the next time you go for a walk. How many flowers do you see blooming? When you walk through an estate of houses, how many of your neighbours grow a few flowers? How many wildflowers do you see at the side of the road?There’s a piece of common land near my home but it is sown in grass and should any wildflower dare to show its head it is quickly mown down every fortnight  by the local council.You might ask why isn’t it sown out in beautiful wildflowers and left to bloom all summer to be cut in the Autumn? I have no idea either .Think of the work it would save too.Think of the fuel that would be saved. Of course , if you live in a city or a large town you may see many cultivated blooms blaring their colourful joy from pocket gardens , window boxes and hanging baskets .You might even see some council operatives  going about the business of watering them  with those big long lances  and water wagons that sprinkle the blooms with moisture throughout the summer months .As you drive into towns , the first thing you might see as you  cross the town boundary is a floral bed , possibly sponsored by a local business or shop with a neat little plaque explaining that charitable fact. We take a lot of it for granted but these things are maintained in an attempt to lift the profile of the town and give it a little glamour. “The Best Kept…blah , blah, blah….”

Take a look beyond the town boundary  and you might discover a very different  scenario.During the spring and summer , the trees and hedges lining the roadside may be ablaze with blossom  but along the roadsides and in the fields , barely a flower is growing.This is largely the result of monoculture. Monoculture is a system of farming which utilises the land for the best output of a single crop and is one of the reasons why the great Potato Famine of  the 1840s in Ireland happened.Growing the same crop of potatoes year after year resulted in a evolutionary  blight which proved ruinous for both the crop and the population that it sustained .

What is happening now has been a feature of farming for this past forty or fifty years. It is largely facilitated  by applying chemicals to the land. Before the Second World War ,where previously there had been  smaller meadows sustaining  a variety of wildflowers  and a whole eco-system that was  supported  by them , now there are much larger fields with one single crop. That means that the flowers, herbs and grasses that were  previously produced   and which  supported nectar- loving insects , are no longer available so the insects and pollinators such as the bees , butterflies  also disappear; as do the variety of birds that feed on them and nest in those  fields.Before this kind of mechanised farming, with huge wheeled  tractors, fields were smaller and more diverse. It can all be seen in the growing size and aggression of the machinery being used . A little Massey -Ferguson tractor used to do the job but not any more.  The problem with this is that when the pollinators are pushed back there is a reciprocal impact on all the foods we enjoy eating .Without the honeybees, for example many crops will be impossible to pollinate and we will eventually have to accept that both they and the honeybees are things of the past. That’s the doomsday scenario that’s often laid in Einstein’s lap.I’m not sure if he said it but it’s still relevant.

If you want to continue eating things such as …cabbage,sprouts , peas, beans , peppers,melons, tangerines, coconuts,coriander, cucumber, lemons , limes , apples,nuts, raspberries, …and  on and on …and all the derivatives from these things…   …It’s worth giving some thought to what is happening right before your eyes. I never really noticed, myself ,until I started keeping honeybees some years ago. Now I notice what the bees are bringing back to the hives .The pollen arrives in a variety of pastel shades and if you have a pollen chart, it’ll give you some idea which plants are being foraged . Inside the hive the range of colours are very apparent in individual cells. I can’t claim to know all the plants but  I have noted the differences.I imagine the colours will continue to lessen as the years go by.

They’ve already had to take some note in China where the dearth of bees have led to  attempts at pollinating crops using teams of people with little dusting brushes  . They are basically helping the plants to have sex by brushing  pollen from the stamen of one plant to the carpel of another to cross-fertilise them . I don’t know how effective this tedious work is but it may be one solution to our future employment problems. Just sit back and picture whole teams of men and women in the fields with their little brushes.

 Of course , the alternative might be to get behind the honeybees and give them all the help we can by making sure that farmers leave a little space in their fields and along the verges of our roads  to plant wildflowers thus  feeding  these humble but extraordinarily important little insects.

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