Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The manicured countryside

click photo to enlarge
I frequently walk and cycle on a track across some fields near where I live. The crops at each side of the path vary: often it's wheat, sometimes it's beet and occasionally it's brassicas of one kind or another. Because this is the Lincolnshire Fens the land is intensively farmed and areas of uncultivated land are few. There is a nearby stream that has reeds growing alongside it, but apart from that, for much of the route, the track itself provides the only place where wild plants thrive. Each year I've delighted in the lesser bindweed, dog daisies, chamomile, cornflowers and many other species that grow at the edges of this route that is used not only by walkers but horse riders, cyclists and agricultural vehicles. In an area such as the Fens even a small patch of wild land is a magnet for mammals, birds, and insects. Along this track the wildlife I commonly at various times of year includes see partridges, skylarks, reed buntings, yellowhammers, snipe, little egrets, wheatear, goldfinches, linnets, sedge warblers, yellow wagtails, hares, stoats, and various butterflies and insects. The other day I stood on it and watched a hobby circling above me: buzzards, sparrowhawks and kestrels are not uncommon and I've even seen a passing red kite.

So, you can imagine my disappointment and anger when, a couple of months ago, I went along the track and found that a tractor with a grass cutter had mown everything on and alongside it, almost up to the edge of the crops in the adjacent fields. It seemed a completely pointless thing to do. The crops are sprayed with herbicide and pesticide on a predetermined regime, so any seeds or insects going into them from the track have little if any chance of thriving. But, of course, all the wild plants were cut down and the number that completed their life cycle was drastically reduced, limiting not only their viability ut also the seeds available for local birds. Moreover, the beauty of the route was destroyed. I suppose to a certain kind of farmer it looked "neater". However, it's hard to keep nature down and the plants started to grow again. But recently it was all cut down again in the same way! Utter madness!

It occurs to me that acts of this sort are often quite mindless, and are frequently a result of either boredom (there are times when even farmers are at a loose end) or a desire for tidiness that borders on the obsessive. Not all farmers are this way inclined: many now farm with a keen regard for wildlife as well as their profit margin, and don't manicure every acre. In my part of the world many take advantage of agricultural subsidies intended to promote biodiversity, and leave strips uncultivated. But, there are still farmers who see nature as a competitor rather than a necessary and valuable part of the landscape and are determined to either obliterate it or keep it under very tight control.

Today's photograph, that prompted today's "reflection", shows "weeds" i.e. wild flowers, growing along the edge of a wheat field in Norfolk.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 45mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/80
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On