Why has the desire of most of us to help nature become a flashpoint with our local authorities in Hampshire?

PeCAN trustee and co-lead for Nature Recovery, Melanie Oxley, investigates...

We know wildlife is in peril, owing to habitat loss, overuse of pesticides, and, of course, climate change. The bedrock on which all natural life rests, including ourselves, is the invertebrate kingdom. The 'mini-beasts', the 'bugs', the 'creepy-crawlies', each one of which, visible or too tiny to see, holds a unique place in the complex web of life. Like dominoes, once this crashes, we all crash.

Did you know, for example, that the majority of snail and slug species are carnivores? Some eat other species in their group. Only two or three species of mollusc actually eat our plants. Likewise, most insects eat or parasitise other insects, helping to keep in check those insects we used to call 'pests'.

This astonishing invertebrate kingdom, which, remember, includes very beautiful creatures such as butterflies, moths, damselflies and lacewings, does not ask for much, just a bit of uncut grass to hide or mate in, a few weeds for their larvae, some flowers to feed on and accidentally pollinate, some trees, maybe some water and, obviously, no pesticides.

All over the country, local government bodies, like many private landowners and home-owners with a garden, have embraced Plantlife's NoMowMay and have answered the call to "put your mowers away this month". Petersfield Town Council has this call to action on its website. In East Hampshire, Norse has reduced the number of times it cuts verges, sometimes leaving them very long. Hampshire County Council (HCC) is also exhorting home owners to leave their mowers in the shed.

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But local government does not always practice what it preaches, despite being given all kinds of advice, such as we provide at PeCAN. For example, to make longer verges more diverse in their plant species to the benefit of insects, the mowed cuttings (arisings) must be removed and taken away to compost elsewhere. This requires (a) investment in new (actually old!) machinery that cuts and collects, and (b) a repository composting site. Other local authorities nearby - Basingstoke & Deane, Dorset and Sussex - appear to manage this and are proud of their achievement, so why cannot authorities in Hampshire, one of the wealthiest parts of the country, step up to this relatively straightforward challenge?

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Added threat comes from private estate managers who continue to manicure and spray at various sites around Petersfield. Some are letting their trees die through lack of care, including mowing close to the trunk and/or the repeated use of pesticides at the base of the trees.

A few days ago I led a small group of children armed with insect nets, into a meadow area in the countryside. It was a very warm spring day. In 45 minutes we had caught just two insects, a seven-spot ladybird and a small white butterfly.  Just one pollinator! There was the nature emergency staring us in the face. The children were disappointed and I was heartbroken. This, above all the facts and figures we see reported in the media, spoke of the very urgent need to help the insect kingdom now. It really does not take much to make a difference.

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In the first few days of June, Hampshire County Council is due to come and spray pesticides around Petersfield's roads. After a previous public outcry, the Council says that it has reduced glyphosate spraying and now only sprays on some hard surfaces for safety reasons or to control invasive species, such as Japanese Knotweed.

But every bit of spraying adds to the toxic overload. That’s why PeCAN is taking part in The Great British Hoe Down this Bank Holiday weekend. The campaign asks us to get outdoors with our hoes and remove the plants along the kerb-sides in town, so there is nothing left for HCC’s spraying team to spray!

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What you can do to protect our precious wildlife from toxic chemicals:

  • Print out a “Please do not spray in this area” sign and display it in a verge near you
  • Take 10 minutes this weekend to clear away the weeds in your part of the street, along with thousands of other people as part of The Great British Hoe Down
  • Tell your Councillors that you want their contractors, Norse, to use cut-and-collect machinery to help conserve the biodiversity in our roadside verges, as happens elsewhere