Celebrating edges, boundaries and margins
CPRE Bedfordshire’s recent involvement with a planning application concerning hedgerows in Swineshead got me thinking about edges, boundaries and margins.
One of the joys of lockdown has been discovering new countryside walks close to home. Footpaths and bridleways invite us to look at the edges, enjoy a new range of plants, watch for the movement of butterflies and moths, listen for crickets, find beetles and other insects. On one recent walk I spotted a discarded birds egg shell in a hedge, removed from the nest by a fastidious parent. On another, clouds of orange tip butterflies were enjoying the hedgerows and field edges. These edges soften a walk, drowning out distant noise and enclosing us in a different world.
In lockdown these footpaths and edges have often served as the limits of our worlds, providing a boundary within which we have felt safe to explore. They have been markers of closeness to home, reconnecting us to an old sense of belonging to a particular place. Historically this would have been expressed as an identification with a parish and in some areas churches still hold rogationtide or ‘beating the bounds’ walks which follow the parish boundary.
There are many different kinds of edges to discover. Part of the recently announced Bugs and Bees programme from Bedford Borough Council is about leaving areas of roadside verges and urban grassland to grow longer, providing vital habitats for wildlife. Plantlife are running a popular campaign to encourage the sowing of wildflowers on urban road verges. These wilder areas often provide a buffer between pavements and roads and are an excellent place to spot insects and birds on an urban walk.
Staying with an urban theme, I loved the story of botanists chalking the names of wild flowers, trees and plants on pavements in urban areas. These plants that spring up in pavement cracks and at the edges of buildings are often overlooked but bring a splash of colour to our towns and cities. They also provide food for pollinators, bringing bees and butterflies into our streets. Some of the places they grow may seem inhospitable or unlikely but nature finds a way.
Bedfordshire is blessed with a number of country parks and lakes created around former extraction sites. Some of these are close to urban environments, like Priory Country Park in Bedford. Here the park sits on the edge of town, accessible along footpaths from the town centre. Parks like Priory bring nature into towns in a different way, providing people with space to breathe and a range of habitats for wildlife. The reeds that edge the lakes are home to birds like reed warblers, and dragonflies and damselflies can be seen weaving through them. The park is partly enclosed by a bend in the Great Ouse and the riverside margins are home to plants that enjoy the damper conditions like yellow flag irises.
Choosing to discover wildlife at the edges might take you along canal tow paths, on gentle riverside walks, have you watching for a glimpse of track-side plants from train windows, crouching to examine a pavement flower, wandering down footpaths, rethinking the planting around your garden pond or exploring field margins. It’s a rich and varied world just waiting to be explored.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog you might also enjoy:
Ghost Trees by Bob Gilbert – Nature and people in a London parish
The Accidental Countryside by Stephen Moss – Hidden havens for Britain’s wildlife
A little rough guide around the hedges – download from the CPRE website
Shelly Dennison – Communications Officer