A few weeks ago I was in Bute Park, central Cardiff when I saw some people tearing out plants and smashing them up. I thought they were doing harm so of course I asked them what they were up to. They were destroying a patch of Himalayan Balsam. This intrigued me because I remember when this hothouse escape first appeared in the Wye Valley perhaps 20 years ago, but I also met a biologist who claimed it was only filling up empty spaces, ie despite its apparent spread, was doing no harm. That was then. The balsam really has become a pest, its rapid spread, especially along river banks has had a major impact on plants that like shady, damp places such as wild garlic. It was then that I noticed how widespread is the Giant Hogweed, another aggressive invader, but a lot of the floral heads are being bent over, so it seems the public is taking an active interest in weed control. It seems the gardeners in Bute Park are only involved in mowing the lawns and maintaining the floral displays.
Which leads me to the above named article in the i newspaper by Michael McCarthy, who in turn referred to the practice of rewilding which is becoming a controversial practice, of re-introducing wild animals into the countryside, which generally involves dangerous beasts such as wolves and bears. He continues:
“The extent of the destruction of Britain’s biodiversity since 1970 is scarcely believable. In just 4 decades, more than half of our wild birds, wild flowers , butterflies and other insects have disappeared.
What makes these calamitous losses even worse is that, compared with the rest of Europe, our wildlife even half a century ago was already impoverished, as there had already been a series of devastating assaults upon it. the enactment of the Tudor vermin laws after 1532 led to the organised slaughter by country parishes of everything from hedgehogs to woodpeckers, with animals such as the pine marten and the wild cat being wiped out in England completely. the rise of shooting estates in the Victorian era allowed gamekeepers to exterminate birds of prey, while the tide of pesticides from the 1950s onwards merely completed the process of wildlife impoverishment.
Yet many of us do not realise just how pathetically poor our wildlife is; we take what we see in the world around us as the norm, and do not register the losses. On a country walk today you might see a skylark, and be delighted; your parents might have heard 10 such bird calls; your grandparents, 100.
The essence of rewilding is to change conservation priorities. Lynxes and wolves are all very well, but they are not the most controversial part of trying to restore ecosystems to the varied richness once enjoyed.
If you visit the best known example of rewilding in England, the Knepp estate in Sussex, you will find one of the best sites both for nightingales and turtle doves. You might say it’s inauthentic; personally, I think it’s wonderful.”
And here lies the role of education. Because we see greenness in parks, and in the countryside, and we may love what we see, but without the knowledge of what plants are native and what are foreign invaders, we cannot know what should be there, and what, over centuries of mismanagement, has been lost. Because even the invaders look nice. Just not as nice as the often more delicate and varies species that used to be there, and in many cases the seeds are just waiting for a chance to spring forth again. But not for ever.