Wildlife campaigners are telling local councils they must think about wildflowers before they rush to trim their roadside verges. Right now there's a public petition going round about it. This is after we were all asked to observe No Mow May, once more to help Britain's beleaguered populations of wildflowers.
Worthy initiatives both, I'm sure. But they ignore the rampaging elephant in the room. In the fields that make up two-thirds of our once green and pleasant land wild flowers have been under relentless chemical attack for close on half a century. Since the 1980s we've had report after report blaming intensive, chemical agriculture for a catastrophic collapse in British wildlife, including many beautiful and once-familiar wayside flowers. Environmental experts say the UK is now one of the most wildlife deprived nations on the planet.
Set against this slowly-unfolding disaster the pre-occupation with roadside verges and garden lawns looks at best an indulgence and at worst wilful neglect. Out there in the countryside it's Armageddon for nature. Yet rather than raise a collective scream of outrage, the so-called friends of the natural world distract us with battles over backwaters. Worthwhile they may be but they're not going to save Britain's wildlife. Only decisive action by government can do that. And it's not going to happen while the NGOs and trusts keep up their conspiracy of silence over what has become a national tragedy.
Back in the 1950s when I grew up people would often return from country walks with flowers they'd picked from the wayside – bluebells and cowslips and ragged robin. Rightly the custom was frowned upon by officialdom and it eventually died out. However, there was no such disapproval from the nanny state for the mass destruction of wild species in the countryside. In fact the state actively encouraged the mayhem through the farm subsidies it handed out.
Something similar is now being practised by wildlife organisations. Through their campaigns and funding appeals they're putting responsibility for biodiversity on us, the citizens, and not where it belongs – with government. I'm all for citizens' engagement in nature conservation. I avoid mowing my own lawns in spring and early summer. But for the wildlife groups to make this sort of thing their main activity is like the fire brigade going around lecturing householders on how to avoid chimney fires when there's a massive forest blaze going on over the hill.
It's difficult to see how chemical agriculture could have survived this long if the self-appointed defenders of nature hadn't, by their silence, tacitly approved it. It's an outdated system that serves no one but the oil and gas industries who supply its products. As well as wiping out wild species, the chemical blitzkrieg of our crops damages soil, pollutes rivers and streams, hastens climate change and contaminates everyday foods with pesticides. There are far more efficient and less damaging ways of growing our food, mostly based on ecological methods. But you'd never know it listening to the wildlife groups.
So here's my suggestion to those who long to see more wildflowers in our countryside. Save your annual subscriptions to the trusts, national and local. Ignore the latest campaign to sow wildflower meadows in window boxes and other such daft places. With the money saved buy more organic food. Or better still, find a nature-friendly, regenerative farm near you and spend some of your weekly food budget with them. Finally you could try something the wildlife groups have signally failed to do – tell Boris it's high time he reformed British agriculture so it works in the public interest and not for the oil industry.
Follow Graham Harvey's Pasture Promise for more straight talking on farming, food and the countryside.