Alan Brown is Countryside Officer for Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park. He has a degree in Geography and has worked teaching outdoor pursuits. A few years ago he completed a biological MPhil.
Curiosity may have killed the cat and this may not necessarily be a bad thing considering how many wee birds they consume, but is biodiversity a question of curiosity? Are we just not worried about what type grass is growing under our feet? Perhaps we’ve just stood still too long. So, why are we not curious about what’s in our back garden? I know that in my childhood I collected worms, bees, wasps and caught shrews which was all done from the safety of my parents back garden! Not so easy now under the increasing urbanisation of our gardens built to park our combustion orientated lifestyles. With over 12 million square miles of gardens concreted over in London alone perhaps evolution may soon see the rise of the concrete mite. Still, at least the car allows us to drive into the countryside and park on the tarmac and see nature. Or have we, as Joni Mitchell sang, just ” paved paradise and put up a parking lot”. Gardens can be minature paradises for species and for our understanding of nature. Our lifestyle does influence our slant on the worth of nature.
Although we no longer appear to be curious, as a species, about the 800 or so species that can be in the back garden, it’s different for shiny consumables. We all recognise more than a thousand products. However, it seems most people only learn the name of a few popular plants that have been imported from somewhere exotic. Such is the case with Rhododendron that has taken over large parts of the countryside, but is appreciated for its colourful flower displays. Ironically, for the Rhododendron, (though this point may be lost on it) in it’s native Himalaya it has become very rare due to tourist pressure for fuelwood. Meanwhile, the Privet, a tame species of our front gardens rampages across Madagascar. So what’s the outcome for this messing with the environment. Darwin pointed out that as part of the natural process a better adapted species leads to its parents’ extinction. Has our biological tampering just eased out poorly adapted species? Will things sort themselves out or will we just be over-run with super plants proliferating like supermarkets everywhere?
It may be that we are just Douglas Adam’s Golgafrinchans, a bunch of hairdressers and telephone sanitizers abandoned on planet earth, that eventually evolved, or didn’t, into the human race? So make your choice, it’s either a world of product placement or a place for a productive life. Choose life.