Gar­den view Love na­ture? He­len Bil­liald has gone or­ganic in a bid to save her gar­den wildlife

love na­ture? Give the lit­tle crit­ters a help­ing hand, says he­len Bil­liald

Garden Answers (UK) - - Contents -

We are a na­tion of na­ture lovers, are we not? David At­ten­bor­ough holds a po­si­tion hov­er­ing some­where be­tween de­ity and favourite grand­par­ent. Mil­lions of us tune in to watch Spring­watch and more than 400,000 of us take part each winter in the RSPB’s Big Gar­den Bird­watch. So why is it that so many gar­den­ing queries are about ex­ter­mi­nat­ing those crea­tures seek­ing to share our gar­dens with us? Last au­tumn a gar­dener asked me how much rat poi­son might kill the bad­gers dig­ging up their lawn. Shock­ing though that may seem, the sen­ti­ment be­hind it isn’t all that un­usual. We have a re­mark­able ca­pac­ity for dou­ble stan­dards: on one hand we can de­plore the tides of plas­tic wash­ing up on trop­i­cal beaches, the felling of rain­forests, the loss of di­ver­sity… then on the other think noth­ing of pop­ping out with a bot­tle of in­sec­ti­cide to drench the green­fly. My own re­sponse to on­go­ing habi­tat de­struc­tion and pol­lu­tion is that I can no longer use pes­ti­cides. This from a farmer’s daugh­ter who took a Mas­ters de­gree in Pest Man­age­ment. Change, we are told, must start at home. Of course com­ing out as ‘Or­ganic’ makes me rather un­pop­u­lar. There’s a colos­sal in­dus­try ded­i­cated to re­mov­ing un­wanted crit­ters from our plots. Gar­den cen­tres stack row af­ter row of in­sec­ti­cides, her­bi­cides and fungi­cides, and in the in­ter­ests of hon­esty I know there are still bot­tles of glyphosate at the back of my shed. But do we need any of them? If ex­pert grow­ers like Jekka McVicar can pro­duce gold medal-win­ning plants or­gan­i­cally, why can’t the rest of us, when there are no gold medals or in­come at stake? The vol­ume of pes­ti­cides and chem­i­cal fer­tilis­ers in use is alarm­ing. A Dutch study look­ing at im­i­da­clo­prid (a sys­temic in­sec­ti­cide that acts as a neu­ro­toxin) found pol­luted ditch­wa­ter so con­tam­i­nated it could be used as an in­sec­ti­cide in its own right. Do you re­mem­ber stop­ping the car to clean in­sects from the wind­screen when its wipers couldn’t cope? Or see­ing moths swirling like snow in the head­lamps at night? It’s years since I wit­nessed a scene like that, and my chil­dren have never seen it. Wipe out the in­ver­te­brates and the rest of the food chain goes with them. And that in­cludes us too. With­out pes­ti­cides and in­or­ganic fer­tilis­ers, my gar­den is still beau­ti­ful. Aphids may ap­pear in flocks one day, but they soon van­ish as spiky black lady­bird lar­vae move in. The lawn will never be an im­mac­u­late sward but I’d rather my chil­dren rolled about on weeds than her­bi­cides. And if plants re­ally do suc­cumb to some­thing, I’d sooner put that down to a les­son learnt. Per­haps I’d bet­ter avoid grow­ing sweet­corn when there are bad­gers in the neigh­bour­ing wood? Last week I found signs of a stoat in the shed and there are grass snakes in the com­post bins. Snail shells dot a corner of the path where a song thrush taps out their con­tents and even my de­ci­sion to stop us­ing or­ganic slug pel­lets this spring didn’t cause the chaos I feared. The dahlias strug­gled with re­peated graz­ing for a while and I lost a few pump­kins, but ul­ti­mately green life ram­pages on all around.

He­len Bil­liald is a gar­den writer with a phd in ecol­ogy and an Msc in pest Man­age­ment

I can no longer bring my­self to use pes­ti­cides

PEST CON­TROL he­len’s chem­i­cal-free gar­den is home to hun­gry black­birds

small yel­low un­der­wing moth

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