|I like wild flowers. Plenty of people
see this as an eccentric but harmless foible, something to be tolerated
but not encouraged. Taking an interest in the natural environment
is in any case a little suspect but what can you do with flowers?
If you do anything in the country it has to be something active:
you can ride, climb mountains, go ballooning, take your 4x4 for
a splash, or something - but what can you do with plants? They are
just there; when you are doing something interesting, they
are just there to break your fall.
Of course, we all know that flowers are important to painters and poets.
But how important are they to philistines? Actually a lot of people like
flowers: you only have to see how full the garden centre car parks are
at weekends. And lots more enjoy the countryside; they buy expensive boots
and anoraks and go for long walks and climb hills. It's something we all
need: a connection with our country roots, even if we can only get back
to them after work. Britain is both densely-populated and heavily urbanised:
few of us are actually involved in maintaining the countryside we need
so much. So it has to be done by statute: we set aside areas for nature
(until we need them for something else, anyway).
And for too long wild flowers have fallen between two stools. The man/woman
in the street likes to know what it is that he/she is looking at and buys
one of the numerous field guides which line the bookshop shelves but active
involvement is for the expert, the botanist, the ecologist, the administrator.
|Flowers are a bit difficult, admittedly:
compared with birds, there are so many more of them. We have to
learn about 2300 flowering and other plants in the British Isles
but only about 500 birds. Birds are in many ways more exciting:
they move about, for a start. Birds have always been so much more
cuddly than flowers; the Royal Society for the Protection
of Birds has over one million members and is the largest conservation
organisation in Europe. Compared with the RSPB, Plantlife, the equivalent
body for wild flowers, is a very junior partner: it has about 10,000
members, one per cent of the RSPB's membership. Not surprising,
since we have done without it for so long (the RSPB was founded
in 1889, Plantlife a century later).
Yet our wild flowers are an integral part of our country. If our eyes
are only now being opened, still they can see. The beauty is all around
us: we don't have to travel to see wild flowers. In the town we have a
different name for them: weeds! Those plants in the car park are overflowing
with character; they have to struggle for life and it shows. Seeing flowers,
not weeds, is a positive step towards appreciating them.
We don't always realise how much we need nature. I remember the outrage
I felt when the oil from the Sea Empress slopped ashore - that was my
beach, my guillemot, my golden samphire. I know I was not alone. We need
nature - and nature needs us, to preserve the best and to protect the rest.
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