I recently found myself elevated into the clouds on a journey I was taking over the UK. As much as being on the ground is a great assessment of habitat, the ability to see the florets of broccoli shaped trees amongst the patchwork of farm fields really gives you an understanding of what is meant by the phrase ‘the classic English countryside’.
When the confusing haze of clouds blurring the view faded I peered out of the window, mesmerised by the world below. The glorious green of the oak tree canopy from above formed a mighty figure on the scene it commanded. It felt like the landscape below couldn’t appear more British as the mighty oak stood by the field standing watch over the younger trees that formed the hedgerow around the farmer’s field. Yet the luscious emerald of the deciduous trees lessened as the browned yellow fields began to dominate the landscape. Hedgerows reduced and the expanse of arable land appeared to go on into the distance – famers making the most out of the space available to keep their business going. The typical English countryside of a patchwork of fields connected by hedgerows and watched over by veteran trees seemed no more. We passed a town below and trees appeared again surrounding the buildings, could there really be more trees here than in the countryside we just passed? Is the urban area now holding the few remnants of ancient trees that remain, the rest no more in the countryside that was supposed to be their home? All the more reason to protect our veteran trees and ancient woodlands surrounding towns.
A blue hue appeared in the corner of my vision through the window, and lingered there. Perhaps a lake was awaiting our passing – an oasis for the wildlife here. But it wasn’t a natural ecosystem at all, but completely man made and a new experience from above – fields of solar panels. I have seen this method of green energy from ground level but never from the sky before. Hundreds of energy giving shield like structures lined several fields, can this area be good for wildlife? Does the grass grow vigorously around the blue electricity generators, forming tussocks for voles to hide when pursued during the day by kestrels or from the ghostly hunter of the night, the mesmerising barn owl? Or is the grass kept short by frequent mowing, preventing the blooms of flowering plants, such as clover, dandelion, oxeye daisy and knapweed, creating a rainbow coloured meadow or providing vital pollination sources insects are so in need of. Could this branded hero of green energy be good for the countryside if it takes away vital habitat? Or was the habitat that was there before monocultures of crops? And what about food production? Just more questions. Habitats with trees, hedgerows and other important ecosystems could coexist with farming and green energy but there appears the need to be a balance. Would it make more sense if solar panels were incorporated on the roofs of new housing developments and industrial sites where they would not be seen in such unsightly abundance and possibly negatively affecting the countryside?
I still like to think of the classic English countryside scene of ancient oak trees teaming with life-giving insects along with roosting bats and curious birds, connected via species-rich hedgerows around food producing fields. But what percentage of the countryside is really like that anymore?