We need a war on tidiness

| 1st March 2019
Yet another unwelcome government cut.

Nature is not tidy. It doesn’t have straight edges. It doesn’t stay within neat lines. And it is all the more wonderful for that.

Opposite my bedroom window in Sheffield, across the street in the doctor’s surgery carpark, was a small patch of woodland, around 20 foot square. It held rowan trees, on which the birds were feeding through the winter, and buddleia on which butterflies and bees fed in the spring and summer.

It did attract some rubbish dumping. I cleaned up the edges of it one day on a Green Party litter pick. But mostly it was greenery with flowers, and full of life. A small flock of sparrows spent a lot of time hanging out in it. It was home to a couple of blackbirds.

Yet a couple of Saturday mornings back I came out to find it all being razed to the ground. The rubbish is still there, but the home for wildlife is well and truly gone.


That’s a microcosm of what we see again and again in Britain, one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world that is at the cutting edge of poisoning, slashing, degrading our natural world.

The county council of Buckinghamshire has outdone itself in deciding that - despite this dreadful age of local government austerity - it would go to special lengths to find an extra half-million pounds to visit such destruction on “unwanted greenery” in its towns and villages.

It would spray three times areas it specially wanted to denude – most likely with glyphosate, the disastrous, indiscriminate, toxic chemical that most of the rest of Europe is moving to ban.

No doubt, if asked, the councillors would express concern about the loss of favourite local birds, of hedgehogs and insects.

And then they go on finding scarce funds especially to ensure that these creatures have no place to feed, no roost for the night, no pile of branches in which to hibernate.


The public at least instinctively understands the problem. Wherever I go doorknocking around the country it is noticeable how many homes have a fat ball for the birds hanging from a feeder, a hedgehog home nestled in a shady corner, a bird box – people are trying to do their bit.

But a study just out of birdboxes illustrates the problem with this approach.

It found that being dry and sealed, the contents of birdboxes didn’t “self-clean” over the winter, as hollows and niches in trees and bushes do. Fleas (and certainly other parasites) overwintered in them very comfortably, just ready to feast on the hatchlings, diseases lurk ready to strike.

Nature is best at what it does – anything human is a poor imitation. Farmland is far less productive than wilderness. A bird box and a fat ball is better than nothing, but nowhere near as good as a patch of woodland and “weeds”, otherwise known as wildflowers.

But we experience so little of it now, that it seems strange, alien, even threatening to us.

Education programme

Nature is not tidy. It doesn’t have straight edges. It doesn’t stay within neat lines. And it is all the more wonderful for that.

It is the rich world of life that the human race evolved in and is dependent on for its survival. There’s even medical evidence that looking at straight lines is bad for us and that nature in cities contributes to the healthy human microbiome that we’re increasingly understanding is vital for mental and physical health.

We need to learn to live with nature, rather than slashing and poisoning it. And we need to make sure that particularly our young are familiar and comfortable with it.

Perhaps Buckinghamshire County Council could have a rethink. Instead of destroying nature, it might put that money towards supporting school trips into the natural world, into forest schools and education programmes in wildlife reserves.

Maybe it could arrange an education programme for councillors, or put the funds to signing up to the United Nations’ Healthy Urban Microbiome Initiative.

This Author 

Natalie Bennett is a member of Sheffield Green Party and former Green Party leader.

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