Urban Rewild

30th Jul 2020

Lawn left to become a meadow
This lawn 'meadow' is allowed to grow unchecked.

Every one of us with a garden or an accessible windowsill can do a little bit for biodiversity. We just need to build an ARK. I’m not expecting 40 days and 40 nights of rain (though this is the UK so it’s not out of the question). I am talking about Acts of Restorative Kindness in our gardens. Kindness to Nature and Restoration of habitat.

With Wanstead Flats and Epping Forest on the borough’s doorstep it might be easy to think that the is already enough green space locally. But the Making Space for Nature Report 2010 and the State of Nature 2019 argues that we need more. A lot more. And do it better- bigger and Better. The gardeners of Waltham Forest can help create ‘more’ and ‘better’ - by doing less.

Whaaaat?! I hear the collective cry of the borough’s green fingered army. You see nature is at its best when it can remove the shackles of domestication. And what are (most) gardens if not a shining example of an exercise in control? We mow our lawns we cut our shrubs we pull weeds we poison pests and we sweep up. Weekly.

For nature to thrive we need to do less. We need to mow less, tidy less and spray less. We need to relinquish a little bit of control of part of our gardens. Mary Reynolds who is the founder of the ARK movement advocates several easy steps that everyone with a garden can take.

Firstly, the general idea is that we willingly and lovingly give over as much of our garden as we can to nature. This may draw sharp intakes of breath from the majority of gardeners (as well as sighs of relief from those who haven’t found their garden in the last few years) but slowly exhale into that brown paper bag and consider why we do what we do in the garden. Is there scope to change our mindset a little?

Could you consider leaving a patch of your lawn unmown? I let almost my entire front lawn grow this year. But I keep a tightly mowed edge and curved path through the middle that leads to a bench. Some of my neighbours think I am crackers, but most see that this is intentional habitat creation by design. It takes only a fraction of the usual time to mow too. The bees dance all over the clover and moths and butterflies rest on the grasses. In the winter there will be seed for the birds and shelter for beneficial insects.

What about a pond? London has lost 90% of its ponds in the last century. These freshwater habits are a huge boon for biodiversity and many of the creatures that a pond will support will eat many of the pests in your garden. Love Hosta’s? dig a pond. Just make sure that part of it is deep enough not to freeze in the winter (how to dig a wildlife pond)

Stop spraying weed killers and pesticides. Just stop and don’t worry. For the first year some of your perennials might get mullered but pretty soon the balance of predators will be restored, and the pests won’t get a look in. However, choosing to stop pesticides means having a wide variety of plants is crucial.

When there is a greater variety plants in a garden the less likely it is that so many plants will be affected. Many caterpillars for example will only eat a certain plant. Thousands of years of symbiosis means that the cinnabar moth will control your ragwort as its larvae feed on it. But that same symbiosis means that the mullein moth will snack on your verbascum. Just pick them off rather than drench with chemicals. On balance the organic approach means that you have healthier soil and plants in the long term. Lose the battle for a plant but win the war for your garden and our planet

Weeds are trickier. Either learn to love them, forgive them and accept them or invest time with a hand fork and trowel. The pluses are the calories burned and that soil contains an antidepressant. Our native weeds are also great forage for out native insects which also turn out to be great forage for out native birds. It costs nothing to go organic, but the environmental impact is priceless.

There are a few other very easy tricks that will help. A discrete log pile in a shady corner of the garden will provide home for beetles and beetles will eat slugs. Dead wood supports hundreds of insects. So, don’t be too keen to tidy up all the branches in your trees and shrubs.

Spend a tenner on a couple of bird boxes (hang them high and out of direct sunlight) or how about a camera for your bird box too? It’s pure wonder to see eggs incubated, hatched and fledglings reared. Bat boxes are a fun addition to the garden too.

Consider the bees. Those pesticides you have stopped using are no longer slowly poisoning them. While many are happy in a hive of activity most are solitary. A pile of sand out of the way, holes drilled into wooden posts and a small bug hotel will help them survive the winter.

Speaking of the winter, supplementary feeding of the birds will help (but put a bell the size of Big Ben on your cats’ collar) and hang feeders high and with tree or shrub cover close. A bird bath will supply essential fresh water if kept topped up and frost free

What if you don’t have a garden? Are your windowsills accessible? Well thought out planting in large planters can give year-round interest and support lots of critters.

Individually, you may think what the use of a few square meters is of unmown lawn? But thousands of households in the borough creates the potential for thousands of square meters of new grassy meadow, thousands of bird boxes and hunderds of thriving ponds. Just think how many thousands of litres of toxic chemicals wouldn’t be sprayed.

Nature is not neat. Nor is it bound by a post code. We need to understand and accept both of these facts. Each patch of urban garden you rewild acts as a ‘habitat island’ where creatures can feed and mate and rest on their way back to their usual home. More habitats islands, closer together creates a wildlife corridor and suddenly we are opening our gardens up to all sorts of wonders of nature.

The phrase ‘Think Global, Act Local has never been more pertinent. Saving the planet starts in our own back yard.

Knapweed
Learn to love weeds! Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) is heaven for bees
Author
Mark Cummings
Photographer
Mark Cummings
Guest Editor
Elley Cummings