Paul Beevers is a member of the Cufaude Lane Toad Rescue volunteers but also a committed advocate for wildlife generally in Basingstoke. A conservation lobbyist familiar to the Borough Council, Paul is also a practical man who as achieved great things in the field of ‘rewilding’ parts of the Hampshire town he calls home. Here he tells a personal story.

Recently Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council has revised its approach to urban green spaces realising that opportunities are being missed to make some of these areas more attractive for wildlife. Residents of Hatch Warren and Beggarwood – wards and estates within the borough – now have the chance to support a Community Plan that will have the effect of “bringing the countryside into the town”.

Traditionally urban green spaces have been subject to regular mowing, no doubt a hangover from Victorian and Edwardian tidy-minded views of municipality. It was a different world then, with little urban sprawl, a much smaller population and farming practices more in tune with nature. In the early 1950’s Basingstoke town’s population was around 15,000 but now it exceeds 110,000 people. Successive generations have become ever-more remote from nature, not just because urban areas have expanded but because wildlife as a whole has declined as more of the countryside has become intensively farmed. Just to give you one example, 97% of wildflower-rich grasslands across England and Wales, essential food for wildlife, were destroyed in the 50 years prior to 20161. Of 218 countries assessed for biodiversity, England is ranked 28th from the bottom1.  Of course, wildflowers are not just food for pollinators and other insects. They are also essential for the birds and other species that feed on leaves and seeds, as well as the insects and other invertebrates for which the plants themselves are food.

Where once children played outdoors in countryside rich in wildlife, today’s youngsters barely see or experience the natural world. How can we expect children to learn about nature when we continue to prevent every wildflower from flowering by mowing them to within an inch of their lives every few weeks? And then there’s the knock-on effect on insects. Older generations will recall childhoods when a night-time car journey would result in the windscreen being plastered with dead moths. Not any more. At that time we had countless wildflowers providing abundant food for insects. Each generation sees and understands less about the natural world but its disappearance and the consequences of this loss are now among the biggest challenges society faces.

Birdsfoot Trefoil - Lotus corniculatusAbove: As an example of ‘grow it and they will come’ Paul’s efforts in encouraging Bird’s-foot Trefoil bore fruit. The plant is the foodplant for caterpillars of the Common Blue and where the plant flourishes now, so do the butterflies.

Many people would like to live in the countryside but cannot afford to. Others choose not to. So why not bring nature into our town so that it feels more like the countryside? Let’s make it as rich in wildlife as we possibly can. We can restore native wildflowers to some of our green spaces and in parts of Hatch Warren and Beggarwood this has already happened. Bring in the flowers and the rest of nature will follow. We now have opportunities to reconnect people of all ages with nature by doing things differently. Isn’t that worth doing?

St Marks Meadow July 11 2014 Small (2)Above: St Mark’s Meadow in Hatch Warren before Paul’s meadow restoration project began (left) and after (right).

Small Blue - Cupido minimusAbove: In times past, Kidney-vetch, a chalk-loving species, was a common sight around pre-urbanised Basingstoke and it supported colonies of the diminutive Small Blue, a butterfly whose caterpillars feed on the flower heads. Paul has succeeded in bringing both back into the heart of Basingstoke.

Paul Beevers – Hatch Warren Nature Group hatch.nature@gmail.com

Reference 1 State of Nature 2016 – England page 3