31. OTD - Obsessive Tidiness Disorders by Kevin O'Hara

Wednesday 8th June 2011


What is it with our society that makes so many of us unbearably obsessive about tidiness? Don’t get me wrong, there are times and places where it is the done thing, such as the uniform rings on a Wembley turf, or topiary in Blenheim Palace. But in the main, do we really need to be so obsessive about things that really don’t matter, such as cutting the grass verges so often or so short, or flailing hedgerows?

Many of these form my annual gripes; all demonstrate various facets of tidiness in society that have impacts on the natural environment which far outweigh actual cost benefits.

We have a beautiful park opposite my house, the former garden of an old manor house long since gone; it is surrounded on most sides by a lovely old stone wall which in some parts forms a road boundary with a sloping grass verge. Each year a nice man from the council comes out with his back pack of herbicide, and proceeds to kill everything that is growing along the base of the wall. Not only does he spray along the wall, he sprays everywhere: around the bases of the big trees; the signs that say ‘don’t damage the trees’; along the base of the post and rail livestock fence when the beasts are in the field (two sick cows this year I am told will be ok); around the bins; all around the benches; in fact, anywhere that looks like it needs spraying with herbicide.

The end result is a very visually unpleasant strip or patch of dead brown vegetation, followed by bare dead earth for the remainder of the year. They say that the main reason for this is, ‘they can’t get the lawn mowers up close to such structures, nor is it safe to strim on a bank to make everything neat and tidy’. Why, I ask myself, is it so important that they must resort to poison, when in places (particularly during springtime) there is an abundance of spring flowers and associated insects. Moreover, why do they have to cut the grass so frequently in this particular location, and so close to these structures anyway - it is not Blenheim Palace, after all.

This leads to the other and more serious consequence of these operations; after years of poison, nothing grows along the wall now, which because of its fine soil mix has led to massive amounts of erosion and ultimate instability in the wall.

Cue the inevitable council overreaction of closing off half the road whilst they stabilised the wall. Will the penny finally drop as to the reasons and solutions to this conundrum? We will have to wait and see if the little man from the council comes out with his back pack next year - I will not hold my breath.

I thought I would get over this personal purge on tidiness, but I had to witness another episode last week too that really got my blood boiling.

This year has been good for migrant birds such as martins, and despite the dry conditions they have been building nests on some of the houses as always. They provide endless hours of enjoyment, twittering to each other on the telephone lines and performing aerobatic displays in the park, dispatching thousands of flies to boot.

However, every house bar one has been happy with the African visitors. At this particular residence, the martins’ attempts at nesting always resulted in disaster, because the house owner kept poking the nests down. His reason was that they were ‘making a mess’ and “they were not neat and tidy nesters like the blackbirds”. Well I’m afraid that was a criminal act, so he was formally warned by the police for interfering with nesting birds, an all-too-common if not always deliberate act as we try to keep our gardens and leylandii hedges ‘neat and tidy’.

Wildlife has enough hardships without these many unnecessary acts, just for the sake of a bit of ‘neat and tidiness’.