Sunday, 27 June 2010

Biodiverse gardening

Monoculture is the intensive production of a single species to the exclusion of others. It is the method employed by our large agri-businesses to produce cheap, intensively grown vegetables for the supermarkets.

But large areas of one species are highly susceptible to pest or disease damage. Caterpillars can rip through an intensively planted crop because there are no plant barriers and because predators cannot always reach their prey in large fields. Monoculture results in high yields but needs high inputs of pesticides, weed killers and fertilisers. Unless steps are actively taken, these efficient, modern practices exclude our native wildlife.

Large areas of my native Nottinghamshire are intensively managed for high yields of wheat, barley, potatoes, oilseed rape or leeks. Many of these areas coincide with the parts of our county where the once ‘common’ common frog is now extinct. The common frog is common no more because its favoured damp places have been drained, because the chemicals used are harmful to it and because its food sources are controlled with pesticides. This pattern of local extinction applies equally to species of birds, insects, plants and mammals. See my note on house martins as an example.

Allotments can make vital havens for wildlife. They can make a significant contribution to wildlife and compensate in a small way for the problems that modern methods of food production create for our native wildlife. But this is only if our allotments are managed properly – and we should not get too high and mighty. Our own gardens and allotments are often nothing more than a series of monocultures: weed free beans, leeks, beetroot beds provide few places for wildlife. Allotments can be a sea of green with little to attract and sustain beneficial insects. There is much we can do.

In high summer our allotments can buzz with the sound of bees, hoverflies, wasps and butterflies if we mix insect-friendly flowers into our crops so that there is food for them. Not only will we get better pollination, we will have hundreds of winged aphid and caterpillar controllers. These insects will provide food for small birds with benefits right up the food chain.

Let’s turn our allotments and gardens into patchworks of colour and measure our success not just in the size of our leeks but on the volume of the hum coming from busy insects on our plots.

Do your bit for wildlife.

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