Friday, July 25, 2014

Bath grass grows long

Mankind has always had a  rather ambivalent relationship with grass.

No, not  that kind of grass, silly. What we’re talking about here is the sort of grass that grows in gardens, and parks, and meadows, and prairies, and cricket pitches.

So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

We seed it, we scare off the birds that come to eat the seeds, we water it, we nurture it, we cosset it, we feed it.

And then we come along with a great big noisy mower and give it the horticultural equivalent of a Number One crew cut.
Notice about long grass, Royal Victoria Park Bath
That notice

And the grass, quite uncomplainingly, just keeps growing under our feet.

But now things are changing, at least in Royal Victoria Park, Bath, where  the grassy banks and other less-used areas are being allowed to grow long.

The reason, as it says on the little signboards that the council has posted up and down Royal Avenue, being to make the park “more visually in keeping with an 1850’s setting” and to “increase wild flower numbers (over time) and habitats for invertebrates, birds, and mammals.”

And whatever the cynics may say about it just being a cover for spending cuts, this can only be a good thing.

(Come on, how much money are they going to save by not trimming a few square metres of grass? Everyone knows that the real savings are going to be made in closing down all the public loos and a children’s centre here and there.)

Long grass, Royal Victoria Park, Bath, distant magpie
The wild bit: uncut grass in Royal Victoria Park, with flourishing birdlife
Now, anyone familiar with the Bath-based works of Jane Austen will have a special fondness for her detailed descriptions of the wildlife that once roamed and gambolled in the city’s open spaces in the days before the city corporation began to cut the grass in the parkland to the west.

In Persuasion, for example, she refers on several occasions to the magnificent herds of spiny anteaters that once added animation to our rolling greensward.

And who can forget the dramatic scene in Northanger Abbey when romantic heroine Catherine Morland is rescued by the urbane Henry Tilney from the chitinous claws of a giant stag beetle?

Perhaps strangely, Austen makes no mention of the flocks of flamingos that once nested in the stately pines of Lower Lansdown, or the screech owl that was reported to have made its home in the Abbey bell tower in 1803.

Floral display and gardener, Royal Victoria Park, Bath
The tame bit: Royal Victoria Park, with parkie
But she can hardly have been unaware of their existence, given the habit, then as now, of opinionated Bathonians to write scathing letters to the Chronicle and Herald about the annoying habits of the city’s bird life.

All of which goes to show that grass deserves to be taken as seriously now as it was back in the days of the inimitable Jane.

So the next time Mrs D hints that the paths round the allotment are in need of a trimming, then yours truly has the perfect excuse.

Those unsightly looking tussocks are actually a vitally important wildlife habitat, and to molest them with the trusty two-stroke strimmer would be nothing less than a crime against nature.

And if she’ll believe that, she’ll believe anything.