Council tidy-up destroys local wild-flowers

Following my visits to the Green Man roundabout flower-show (see here), I'd walked along Whipps Cross Road towards the Hollow Ponds, and enjoyed a similar experience just by walking along the new shared-use track which lies parallel to the road. Cyclists passed and a few walkers - noticing my interest and camera - even stopped and said how wonderful and colourful it looked.

Whipps Cross Road 120704 20459artColour by Whipps Cross RoadThe new track is separated from Whipps Cross Road (extremely busy Whipps Cross Road, with buses, lorries,cars and ambulances in abundance) by a metre-wide strip of soil - just as colourful in flower as the strip and embankment the other side of the track which separates it from Leyton Flats. Along both sides were the yellow of crucifers, whites of daisies, purple of vetch, red of poppies... With all that - and growing up to about a metre high - the roadside verge served as a nice barrier between the wheels and fumes of vehicles and the pleasures of pedestrians and cyclists.

gmr 120704 20427artLocal naturalist Kathy Hartnett showing a family from Rhode Island some of the wildflowersThen, a couple of days after my visit, the following message was circulated to members of the Epping Forest Outdoor Group:

"With the insertion of a cycle path alongside the road between Green Man and Whipps Cross Lea Bridge roundabouts a narrow strip of rough soil was exposed and brilliant colourful wild flowers flourished. It was a real delight.

But… while still in bright flower the whole lot is being tidied, mown, municipalised, controlled and made dull. There was no threat from predatory people being able to hide in bushes... the flowers were not tall or thick enough for anyone to lurk without being seen by passing traffic.

Do the people that sanctioned this have souls? Now the council will have a mowing cost - these same council who claim to be short of money. Only a few poppies and daisies remain around trees now, and they will be soon strimmed away. Then tidy bored children can sit and look at the tidy boring grass and plan their next riot... as life is deadly dull and colourless.

Whipps Cross Road 120704 20467artJust before the final road-side verge was cut...Somebody will have targeted the contract, but these things can be re-negotiated and bad practices can change; the flowers could have been cut at appropriate times in a planned way for nature conservation management.

Why not go in the reverse direction and mow less grass at Lea Bridge Road central reservation and roundabout? Let's see a delight of managed wild flowers."

When I read that I was horrified - the pleasure that I'd had in the flowers, those that I'd told about it and taken to see - all gone!

Whipps Cross Road 120704 20479artAbove the mower the banners read: "your borough...we want your views"I went to Whipps Cross Road on 4th July. Underneath banners suggesting that it was "your borough" and that "we want your views" the mowers were out completing the job of destroying that lovely verge on behalf of Waltham Forest Council. I spoke to one of the contractors, and got a feeling even from him that what was happening was wrong: "It's for the Olympics, though". Of course it is - everything must look tidy for the thousands of visitors we're going to have to entertain. They won't want to see colour and beauty - at least not by roadsides. They'll want it tidy. Won't they? At a Cabinet Meeting of the L.B.W.F. on 20th July 2010 one provision was "Increased visitor economy by the provision of an attractive walking and cycling route to the Olympic Park."

An alternative view of why the council decided to mow the verges was put forward by another person, though. Apparently some cyclists have been complaining about the vegetation encroaching onto their track. It was: I walked along the very edge before it was mowed down - but it wasn't leg-hindering thick-stuff, brambles or the like - it was just soft vegetation. Perhaps it gets tangled in the bicycle wheels? If that's the case - of course it has to go. Don't go cycling in the country.

Waltham Forest's Biodiversity Action Plan states: "Our vision for Waltham Forest is of a diverse natural landscape with the countryside and open spaces integrated into the urban environment... It is a place where the richness of the biodiversity in the Borough is protected, conserved and enhanced..."

In fact, the damage wasn't quite as bad as I'd feared. It was only the metre-or-so verge either side of the shared-use path that had gone - the embankment remains, so there is still colour and a place where butterflies and bees can feed. But with the wheels of the vehicles that much more obvious, the place didn't feel the same as it had a few days earlier. It certainly didn't look the same.

You might like to comment on the "improvements " along Whipps Cross Road; this may be an approprate email address:
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Paul Ferris, 5th July 2012