Listening to a Radio 2 phone-in about wildflowers the other day, I was struck by the fact I couldn’t recall seeing any in the West End. We live in a beautiful city with some incredible wildlife corridors and green spaces yet a walk along the Great Western Road left me feeling a little sad for what could have been.
It was National Meadow Day recently and it’s a great time of year to celebrate the wonder of wildflowers. Imagine if instead of mowing that strip of land which separates the two sides of the A82 we left if for wildlife. Imagine if it was a corridor of colour instead of a yellowing, uninspiring bit of grass.
Nationally we only have 1% of land given over to meadows and very few in towns and cities. We have lost 97% of our wildflowers since the 1930s. Insect populations are vanishing.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Wildflowers are important as just one species can support a whole ecosystem from fungi and invertebrates, through insect-eating birds and small mammals, to birds of prey. Birds-foot trefoil for instance can provide food for more than 160 different types of invertebrates.
Our roadsides, verges and even communal gardens in the West End are being cut short, leaving biodiversity deserts and unused spaces – you can’t even have a ball game on most of them. What are these spaces for? These verges, like the one along the A82 are barren of bee, beetle and beauty and are contributing to insect decline. It seems to me that cutting our verges and keeping them as unused spaces is missing a trick.
Where are our wildflowers?
I decided to head out around the West End to find some wildflowers. It can be hard to even find grass verges in some parts, but where they do exist, the only wildflowers I could see was tiny pockets of clover – not to be snuffed at in terms of pollinators, but hardly a rich biodiverse scene for wildlife or beauty for us.
I tweeted Glasgow City Council to ask about cutting the grass on the A82. I wanted to know why it was just short grass which does nothing for the visual appeal of the area or our wildlife.
They replied, “the strips along the A82 are for daffodils once they die, the grass is cut – these are not biodiversity areas”.
Glasgow City Council has a ‘biodiversity plan’ for the city, it’s very small in the ‘Urban’ areas and there is barely anything in the West End. I wonder if a space is not in the plan the only plan is to mow.
It makes me consider why we nominate what should be biodiverse and what shouldn’t. Instead of nature being allowed to thrive, we are saying this strip of land will have wildflowers and be biodiverse and this strip of land will not. It feels like a blinkered sense of human intervention that isn’t really needed.
Why do we get to dictate what Nature can and can’t do? Wildflower meadows are habitats – not for our pleasure (that’s a bonus). They are homes, food and sanctuary for wildlife. Maybe we need to stop over-thinking them so much and let nature do its thing.
Safety first but let’s grow not mow
It is important to make sure that our roads are safe places; where people can see and cross. That doesn’t mean they need to be devoid of life.
PlantLife Scotland suggest that our local councils are cutting too short, too early and too often. They suggest by doing this we are “depriving flowers of the chance to seed and reproduce”.
It wants the first cutting, which is currently taking place in May or June, to be delayed until late July, and for councils to manage verges for wildlife in a way that would encourage wildflowers.
PlantLife UK have a national campaign to get local authorities to change the way they manage grass verges; you can get involved and find out more on their website.
Window Boxes can be wild
While I wait in hope that Glasgow City Council will eventually ditch the lawnmower and let nature grow, I want to encourage everyone to plant for wildlife. We can do so much in our own little corners of the West End.
Whether you have a window box, a balcony or even some tubs on your tenement steps there’s a lot of opportunity in these spaces.
Choose flowers like poppies, corn cockle, cornflowers, Red Clover and Wild Marjoram. They love sunny spots and can have a huge impact even in small spaces like containers, tubs and window boxes. Make sure you stick to good quality seeds and try your best to go native.
If you have a lawn, turn it into a meadow. Yellow Rattle is your friend followed by lots of wildflowers.
Think there is a perfect space in the West End for wildflowers – I’d love to see it please send me photos #wildaboutwestend @GlasgowWEToday
* Gabby Morris lives in the West End of Glasgow, with her wife. She is the cofounder of Garden Crowd a social enterprise supporting urban birds and is a product design student at the GSA.