I remember as a child every time we drove any distance the car windscreen would get a liberal spread of dead bugs of various sorts. These would be flying across the road from the verges and adjacent farmland, and it always made me wonder how many there actually were if so many were hit by our car as it sped along.

Nowadays, we never have to clear the bugs from the windscreen. They are simply not there anymore.
In his book, “The Flowering of Britain”, Richard Maybe talks about the gradual progress of natural recovery of the UK following the last Ice Age. How trees, wildflowers and grasses gradually colonized the country. He goes on to explain that as people came over from the continent the forests and meadows were replaced by farmland. Over the centuries our population steadily grew, villages became towns and cities and we needed to feed more and more hungry mouths. This growth in farming has been necessary and inevitably has led to a decline in natural habitats and biodiversity.

At the beginning of the 20th century, however, things changed quite dramatically. Farming became an industry and mechanisation took over. It became easier to grow crops in huge fields, fossil fuels were readily available and needed for the new tractors and lorries. Perhaps most dramatically fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides became commonly used across the whole country.

By the end of the century we had lost around 98% of or natural meadows, causing a huge decline in biodiversity and our car windscreens were clear of bugs! These are the bugs that feed in our meadows and which our birds and small mammals rely on for their food. Consequently, populations of all species have declined dramatically. Even our most common bird, the House Sparrow, has declined in numbers by about 70%!

Meadows are not just important for our wildlife. They have value for our mental health and wellbeing, for exercise and places for children to play. They also have huge importance for our planet. We now know that your average area of long grass can hold up to 40Kg of carbon in just a square metre, including the roots and fungi that are in the soil. If you multiply this by the area of our greenspaces, road verges and gardens then the figures start to make you realise that creating more meadows is a good thing in so many ways!

We do still need to maintain sight lines for roads, keep our greenspaces accessible for play and recreation and make sure we can go for our daily walks. But we don’t need to mow every patch of green grass just for the sake of it. The meadows and long grass areas are hugely important for our wildlife and our own well-being.

Simon Curry – Chair of Medway Urban Greenspaces Forum