Tilly and I have just had a gentle walk round one of the fields at the end of the drive. This has been a safe bet for the last two or three weeks because there are no leverets hunkered down along the field margin, just lots of groundsel, wild chamomile (pineapple mayweed), clover, and dock, plus one or two other wild flowers which are trying to make a go of it.
Today, as we walked I realised that all the plants were curling up and looking decidedly sickly. I groaned, inwardly and out loud. On the very edge of the field, at the top of the bank alongside the burn, there were a few surviving clumps of purple comfrey and I saw just one solitary bee. Just one, in that vast acreage of land.
As luck would have it, for me, but not for him, I spied a man tending the irrigation equipment sited in the far corner of the field, where they create a small reservoir from which to pump water to distant potato fields. Firstly, I asked him if they rationed the water coming out of the burn, because last year their efforts to water their crops resulted in the burn drying up further down its course. Not good news for anything living alongside or in the water. He assured me they had monitors and timing devices dealing with that. I repeated that last year the burn had dried up.
Moving on swiftly, as his cheeks reddened, I asked about the wilting plants along the field margin. He told me they have been sprayed because they are dangerous weeds, which can't be allowed to escape into the crop, because the end product has to be 110% perfect. And that's because we, the consumer, expect that. I don't think I do. I think that by the time the crop has been processed and processed, and processed a bit more, the end result is probably totally sanitised and couldn't possibly do any of us any harm, let alone any good.
However, just for the record, groundsel, Senecio vulgaris, according to Culpepper, "is very safe and friendly to the body of man". Dock, Rumex obtusifolius, not my most favourite plant, but a wild flower nevertheless, according to A Modern Herbal can produce a tea made from the root, which was formerly given for the cure of boils. "The plant is frequently called Butter Dock, because its cool leaves have often been used in the country for wrapping up butter for the market". It is also a leaf beloved of one of my grandsons, because he has a habit of falling into stinging nettles and a dock leaf rubbed on to nettle stings can be soothing, and the wild chamomile or pineapple mayweed, Matricaria discoidea, which, apparently can be used in salads!
So, all very dangerous weeds, and shortly to be dead. The farmer assured me that there were other wild flowers sown amongst these deadly weeds, but I have to say I could see very little that looked promising or something to gladden the heart of a passing bumble bee. My heart has not been gladden at all. And to top it all, they are out cutting the roadside verges again, just as the cow parsley, red campion and other delights are looking their best. When will they ever learn?