Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Fighting back

We are all familiar with stories about human destruction of the natural habitat, from trawlers scraping the sea bed with their nets to litter left by climbers around the summit of Everest; from turtles dying having swallowed polythene bags in mistake for jellyfish to the unacceptable loss of soil through short-term farming practices. We fight back in tiny ways. I avoid buying 'Velvet' brand toilet rolls because of the unnecessary destruction of primary forest for their production and I never buy Cadbury 's chocolate for a similar reason - in this case the cutting down of rain forest for cocoa plantations. Are my actions a waste of time? I honestly don't know. I should really take the course chosen by Jeremy and become a vegetarian. (I refer here to my son Jeremy and not Jeremy Corbyn although both set an admirable example.)
These thoughts crossed my mind as I visited Daventry earlier today because as I walked from the car park (cars are, of course, another related issue) I noticed how plants are fighting back too. A few rosettes of Common Whitlow Grass, Erophila verna, had rooted at the foot of a wall. In themselves they do no damage but they do assist in the accumulation of soil, material in which more robust plants may later root. 

Common Whitlow Grass, Daventry town centre. 14 November, 2017
Notice the gaps in the brickwork
The tiniest nooks and crannies may accommodate a chance seed; it may be wind-blown, as in the case of Oxford Ragwort, Senecio squalidus, or deposited in bird droppings as with Brambles, Rubus fruticosus. The result is the same, a plant whose roots  begin insinuating themselves into the mortar to create ever-widening cracks.
Oxford Ragwort to the rear of the town library, Daventry.
14 November, 2017
Oxford Ragwort is an annual or short-loved perennial but brambles are woody plants and present a more serious problem. If not removed their roots will widen to a point where structural damage will result. The specimen I photographed is of no consequence as the area is due to be redeveloped shortly but elsewhere...
A bramble growing strongly in a wall to the rear of Daventry's library.
14 November, 2017

Oxford Ragwort is an introduced plant (from southern Europe) and so too is Buddleia, Buddleja davidii, a native of China. On the M40, where it cuts through the Chiltern Hills I have noticed huge swathes of buddleia cloaking the chalk face. It is helping to bind the walls of the cutting in place or will their roots split the chalk and cause it to crumble? Perhaps it is too soon to tell but the situation is doubtless being monitored. 
A buddleia seedling, only small at he moment, but if ignored...
Certainly masonry in Daventry is being weakened by buddleia and the consequences are likely to be serious if these attacks are ignored. It grows rapidly and produces great quantities of seed and as a woody plant its destructive powers are considerable. The seed may be wind-borne but the dispersal mechanisms are as yet not fully understood.
...it could develop into a problem. North Street, Daventry.
14 November, 2017
I found it damaging brickwork in three places during just a short walk but it wasn't the only culprit. Cotoneasters have red, orange or yellow fruits much consumed by birds. The seeds pass through a bird's gut to be deposited elsewhere. Much like buddleias, cotoneasters (this example was unidentifiable to species) will split brickwork and in the case in question the damage was too severe to be easily rectified.
A cotoneaster has developed in a similar manner. Daventry town centre.
14 November, 2017
A few days ago here in Daventry I found another plant dreadfully difficult to eradicate yet whose destructive powers are legendary, lifting paving slabs and seriously damaging the foundations of buildings. I refer to Japanese Knotweed, Fallopia japonica. Lacking prompt action when found the consequences could be very serious indeed.
Japanese Knotweed. Daventry. 3 Novermber, 2017
Does all this matter? Probably not, but my fevered imagination foresees two possible scenarios where the situation could get out of hand. One involves a widespread plague akin to the Black Death, consequent on mankind failing to produce antibiotics to cope with rapidly mutating pathogens; the other involves a financial catastrophe where money for essential repairs simply isn't available. Both would result in people too busy ensuring their survival to worry about nature's fight back.
Absolutely impossible of course. Pharmaceutical companies will obviously come up with an answer and no government could possibly starve local authorities of resources to that degree. 

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