First blog piece

December 21, 2017

Here goes with my first blog post. Starting from a blank page and with no previous posts makes me think about blank sheets, clean start, tidiness, no clutter, no mess, no blemishes.

My aim is to write and post pieces that raise issues and questions about ecology in small places, small areas that are perhaps less robust and less sustainable by virtue of their simplicity and vulnerability to natural and man made influences.

My case study is The Park - the area where I live and have been observing and recording opportunistically for ten years. Observations and lessons related to this site will lead me to a wider discussion as appropriate.

Interestingly The Park contains a rather random arrangement of publically accessible spaces around and between the developed parts of the site. It was a planning requirement that the development, although made up mostly of large family houses, is low density with grass, scrub and lightly wooded areas. It is essentially chalk grassland in the East Of England.

During these ten years the developer has been responsible for the maintenance and management of the open spaces. We have a Residents' Association. The Association has worked very closely with the developer and their site maintenance contractors (there have been three companies over the ten years). An agreed programme has been followed. Each of the accessible areas has been maintained to preserve the character of each area and the site planting undertaken by the developer in 2007 has been managed with varying success. Unfortunately part of the site planting plan required by the Local Authority as part of the development brief included 50 ash trees. Most have succumbed to die back. Some replacement planting was undertaken and in spring 2017 thirty hornbeam were planted. My role in all of this was two-fold. For a while I chaired the Residents' Association and led the formulation of a maintenance plan. At the invitation of The Parish Council I also took on the role of volunteer parish tree warden. So one of my particular concerns for the site is the trees. Lesson learned - it was unfortunate that ash trees were chosen as a significant part of the original planting. Ash die back was not really on anyone's agenda locally in 2007. However it is never a good idea to plant so many trees of one species or even species in the same genera or family because of the vulnerability that results from disease. Having made that mistake, it was repeated by planting thirty hornbeam. Second lesson - don't trust to a contractor to nurture the new planting when cost is the main concern. The hot weather at the end of May killed the new planting due to lack of watering to get the trees established. Pitiful really but unsurprising when responsibility was with the developer.

From January 2018 the ownership and maintenance responsibility transfers to the house owners through our own not for profit company. Shame it did not happen in January 2017 because thirty fine hornbeam could have been loved and nurtured.

So having provided some historical perspective and a couple of valuable lessons to others who may have a management role in their local small space I would like to move to discuss a certain trait that I have observed about my fellow residents and other site users. There is an irresistible urge to want everything to be tidy. The aesthetic requirements of my fellows has to some extent overridden wildlife and cost issues. Encouraging others to observe and value the biodiversity of The Park works well with some people, others have little interest as they wrestle with the demands of their busy lives. The cost of tidying the site has not yet figured in the concerns of many residents since the developer has picked up the site maintenance contractor's invoices for the past ten years. That is about to change and my guess is that cost will move up their personal agendas very soon. A consequence of this zealous lust for tidiness is that a number of wild plants on the site have been demonised - regarded as undesirables to be severely controlled or eliminated. I would like to talk about one of these now and intend to return to this subject in future blog pieces. When I first observed and logged species on the site back in 2007 I noticed an interloper, a garden escapee and I confess two thoughts crossed my mind. How does that plant come to be here? And should it be removed? Back then my thoughts were not so much about tidiness but invasiveness. The plant in question is Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) an established garden plant that I can remember being in my parents garden back in the 1950s. When I saw it growing on The Park I observed that it was at the boundaries adjacent to domestic gardens that predate our site's development. So it almost certainly seeded and spread or unwanted plants were discarded over the garden fence. Either way it is here. I have continued to look at it over the past 10 years and can say that its spread on The Park in that time is rather limited. Nevertheless it now seems to be troubling those of my neighbours currently trying to establish site maintenance priorities before the commencement of the new ownership responsibilities from January 2018. The site maintenance contractor has been invited to provide a cost estimate for digging out all of the Goldenrod plants. Solidago are members of the daisy family (Asteraceae). Originally from the prairies and grasslands of America. They are nectar rich and attractive to pollinators and are a food plant for a number of butterfly larvae. On balance they quite suit the rough grassy areas of The Park where they have become established and are beneficial to a range of insect species. Their spikes of yellow flowers are not unattractive. So the question arises, do we really need to remove it - tidy it away out of sight? My view is that we need do nothing unless and until the Goldenrod threatens other interesting and beneficial plants. Only then do we need to curb its enthusiasm and weaken it by some judicious cutting and flailing. I will leave the topic there for now but will argue in defence of other plant demons and against over zealous tidying in later pieces.


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