Tidier isn't always better - we also need to protect our biodiversity

The aim of the award is to reverse the drop in our numbers of bees, which are crucial for plant pollination
The aim of the award is to reverse the drop in our numbers of bees, which are crucial for plant pollination
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Thanks very much to a gardener named Paul who sent me a very engaging letter last week, asking me to issue a reminder of a timely matter.

Before I get to the letter, I want to remark on how beautiful our countryside looks at the moment, with everything bursting into life.

Shiny new calves basking in the fields, nest-building birds in full voice, and the unfurling new leaves on the trees are beacons of hope in these uncertain times.

In our towns and villages, too, there are signs of Tidy Towns committees being busy, with the disappearance of litter, the appearance of freshly painted flower pots and general sprucing-up.

This is where Paul's letter comes in.

"Three years ago while driving the back road into a local town, the verge caught my attention," he writes.

"It was full of wildflowers and buzzing with pollinators, heavenly sight. I was going to photograph it and record the species of wildflowers in it, to try to replicate it.

"I did return a few days later, Jesus wept and so did I. As a Cavan man born and bred, I don't often succumb to such emotion.

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"Ann, they tidied it all up, all those unsightly weeds. It looked like a silverback that had his arse shaved by a blind man."

I couldn't help laughing at Paul's words but he's describing an issue which also incenses me: sometimes, as soon as things are flourishing, they are knocked on the head, with a quick visit from a lawnmower, strimmer or shot of weed killer.

As Paul puts it so well: "A monoculture desert looks tidy but it is dead. Those weeds that they are tidying up are full of life, colour and energy."

So, in a direct call to Tidy Town groups, local authorities and those managing public - or indeed private - green areas, please consider before you cut or spray: what is it achieving, is there an alternative?

Though I also want to point out that this is now happening less, obviously due the Tidy Towns Competition, which I'd like to commend for its leadership on environment care.

The Tidy Towns special awards include the Local Authority Pollinator Award, with a prize-fund of €9,000, aimed at encouraging Tidy Towns groups to implement pollinator-friendly actions.

The aim of the award is to reverse the drop in our numbers of bees, which are crucial for plant pollination, by encouraging Tidy Towns groups to take on various measures.

These include leaving wildflowers to grow alongside roadsides, reducing the use of pesticides and using more pollinator-friendly planting in parks and gardens.

What's interesting is that there is a particular emphasis on a 'whole town' approach, as this is better for pollinating insects and will have greater long-term impacts for biodiversity.

It is also worth watching a short video on TidyTowns.ie featuring the Tidy Towns group in Geashill, Co Offaly, regional winner of a pollinator award last year.

Pat Foley, vice-chairman of the local group, says that there was a, "bit of bemusement" in 2015 when they first left the green margins unmown (except for a strip alongside the road for walking), the fear being that it would be "unsightly and lose us marks".

But that attitude quickly changed and, now, "everything we do is through the prism of biodiversity and pollinators".

The shift in emphasis suggests that window boxes and their mainly brightly-coloured annuals may be on their way out in the Tidy Towns.

Not only are they unattractive to wildlife, but they also require a lot of water, which as last summer showed, is an increasingly precious resource.

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