A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Largely poppycock.....

So we have no summer weeds, have we? Here we go again - it's 'Get Modern Farmer Giles [aka Brian Aldridge]' time and yet another cause for collective angst over the supposed loss of heritage 'biodiversity': 'Experts fear for popular flowers' (BBC Online Science/Nature News, June 27):

"Some of the most beloved British summer wildflowers are, in fact, the most endangered.....

Researchers say arable plants, a group which includes poppies and buttercups, have shown the greatest decline of any type of British flora.

The group is urging farmers to count the arable plants on their land to create an accurate national survey."

And underneath a picture of a crimson poppy, we have the wide-eyed caption: "Many of Britain's most popular wildflowers are under threat."

Baldrickdash! I have never seen so many poppies for years! And where? On roadside and railway embankmemts, new cuttings, road workings, and roundabouts! Many of the plants in question are terrific opportunistic annuals and tough, rough biennials/perennials that just revel in disturbed ground - and they don't bother to distinguish between ploughs and bulldozers, hoes and diggers. Moreover, poppies don't hang around waiting for conservationists to preserve 'old English fields'; with true Darwinian spirit, they crop up wherever they seed (sic joke!) an opening. "Hey, Poppy Pals! Have you heard about that new railway they're building in Kent? I'd hop down there real quick for the summer."

So where should we be out counting the poppies? By new roads, along railway embankments, and around building sites - all a paradise for former field 'weeds', not to mention for an intriguing array of alien rarities. It is entirely arguable that building and development have markedly increased British biodiversity! "But them's not 'heritage', be they?"

The white chalk around where I live in Kent is presently stained blood-red with poppies. Bleeding millions of 'em! And what did I see the other day as I curved my way onto the M25? A bunch of summer orchids in full show. Fragrant thought.

So: "I know a road on which the wild thyme grows." Has it dawned on folks that new building is so often good for plants? You just ask a saxicolous lichen! (Don't look stony-faced!). Of course, there are some less-adaptive field plants that do need protection, but let's not talk general PC poppycock.

Philip, identifying rare poppycock wherever it pops up! Luncheon - a good sauvignon blanc to toast..... "Papaver rhoeas rampant"?

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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