I’ve just returned from a restful week in the Scottish Highlands – wet but still very beautiful. I had to adjust to a whole new cast of wildlife characters – porpoises and seals, sea birds and a quite different mix of garden birds. My sister’s birdfeeders welcome large numbers of chaffinches – a species largely absent from my garden this year. They are remarkably clean (perhaps all that Scottish rain) and I even kept wondering what they were. She has no blackbirds at all but an interesting mix of heron, herring gulls and hooded crows.
I love to walk along the lane outside her house: Loch Fyne to one side and a steep bank, wooded with oak, birch and rowan to the other. There is a ditch draining the slope and the water was positively pelting along in miniature rapids. As always at his time of year, my eyes were drawn to the wayside vegetation. By late summer roadsides are tangled, overgrown and, to be honest, look rather tired. However, when you look closely they’re fascinating.
On the drier stretches beyond the woodland I identified white and red clover, plantain, knapweed, daisies, buttercups, betony, bird’s-foot trefoil and the little pink disks of herb Robert – all backed by goat willow woven through with exotic white trumpets of convolvulus. In the damp, shady strip beside the ditch there were small clumps of tormentil, its four-petalled, lemon-coloured flowers like scattered glitter, and nearer the house the huge untidy yellow heads of giant inula, escaped from the garden, and brightening the shadows like a firework display. There were also lots of sedges, rushes, ferns, mosses and liverworts that took me well out of my botanical knowledge comfort zone. Here was impressive biodiversity within a few paces of home. Wonderful!
Not just in remote Scotland. Throughout the UK, where councils employ a benign policy of tender neglect and late strimming, there are delights to be found. At a time when agriculture favours the monoculture and we frantically scramble to reconstitute our lost hay meadows, our roadside verges often prove to be a botanically rich store. I read the other day of a scheme to spread the hay cut from verges in order to reseed such developments.
With their wild plants and attendant bees, butterflies, hoverflies, bugs, beetles and small mammals our waysides are ribbon-shaped mini- nature reserves. And there are an awful lot of them!