Wednesday 24 May 2023

performative biodiversity

Extinction is forever. Several iconic flowers of the Irish landscape are on the red list: clinging on by their sepals as more land is developed for intensive agriculture, hotels, offices and shopping malls. Because capitalism reasons, it seems impossible to get, like, affordable homes built in the country - but that's a rant for another day.

Monday 22nd May 2023 was designated International Day for Biological Diversity by the UN and RTE put out a piece congratulating Trinity College for the wild-flower micro-meadow at their Front Gate. The statues of protestant icons Burke and Goldsmith used to gaze out at the riff-raff over close cropped lawn mowed to within an inch of its life. In July 2020, the grass was dug up and sown with "meadow lawn turf that included 25 types of native Irish wildflower". I can tell you that it looks well scruffy because wild flowers are but small pin-pricks of colour and scent - just enough to attract the insects which will pollinate them. Cultivated flowers, by contrast, are blowsy in yer face harlots. TCD is making the argument that this biodiversity transition is not for people but for the invertebrates - both the visible busy pollinators and the lads scratching a living under the surface. 

It's not TCD's first such venture. When I worked there in the 00s, a tree-scattered raised bank in the car-park in College Park adjacent to the rugger-pitch was let run wild and shaggy. That area was even smaller than the Goldsmith/Burke lawn but afaik it was just left unkempt and the wildflowers elbowed their way in. It was super convenient for Botany 101 students to use quadrats and transects to calibrate the extent of species diversity. Like I did in Blean Wood as a teenager 50 years ago. 

And South Dublin Co Co SDCC have a Pollinator Action Plan 2021-2025 which seems to bee (see what I did there?) on the right track. They have embraced Long Flowering Meadows which are only cut once a year. Have to hope that there isn't an uptick in cases of Lyme disease [tick-borne Borreliosis] among the walking public. We, for sure, had to scan our kids every evening after they'd been out in the hayfields. And that was before Lyme disease was a thing in Ireland. SDCC would rather folks cavort in the much smaller acreage maintained as Short Flowering [5 cuts a year] Meadows.

A couple of weeks ago I picked up some back-issues of Irish Botanical News the organ of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland BSBI. An article therein was on message: The case against 'wildflower' seed mixtures - position paper No. 1. Doogue et al. pp Dublin Naturalists' Field Club DNFC.  Ir.Bot.News 32 (March 2022) pp. 32-44. They are correctly scathing about the effects of the wildflower-meadow-seed-packaging-industry. They include a picture of a, frankly gorgeous, non-native wild-flower road-verge at Portrane Co Dublin. Noting that the assemblage is an impossible pastiche of plants from very different ecological niches whose common feature is that they have profuse colorful inflorescences:

You may be assured that all these plants will be dead over-winter and any seed which is set will struggle through the thatch next spring. In a few years, almost all these introduced species will have failed the natural selection test. Whoever bought and distributed the bonanza will have to return to Sandro Cafolla [who prev] for more 'product'. Better, cheaper, to buy a scythe and mow later . . . and in patches. Better still to leave the verge alone and give the airspace to prickly poppy Roemeria argemone which used to be locally abundant but is now fighting for its life.

In their position paper the DNFC makes a few cogent points:

  • Native to Ireland is nowhere near good enough! Ecotypes of the same species will have different flowering times; be adapted to different habitats; be resistant to local pests. Seed from Donegal may be at nothing in Waterford.
  • Native seeds work on the Field of Dreams principle: if god builds it [the correct habitat] the flowers will come.
  • Pollinators are fussy. Not all 'wild flowers' will be to the taste of locally abundant insects.
  • Let's hear it for dull native plants with inconspicuous flowers: gardens are the place for in yer face.
  • wildflowers build up a close mutually beneficial relationship with the darkness below ground - especially fungi and microbes. Wildflower seed packets leave all that behind on the packing-room floor.
DNFC: In conclusion, we are of the view that the distribution of 'wildflower' seed mixtures will nt enhance Ireland's natural biodiversity, it is damaging to what remains and will divert attention and funding from addressing the underlying causes of the ongoing destruction of our flora and fauna. Quite!

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