Denbighshire County Council’s “Wildflower Meadows Project” - now in its fifth year, and ever-expanding - has been an increasing source of frustration. These often untidy areas are causing much angst among residents, who want to have pride in their community. Whilst I am very keen to support efforts to improve biodiversity, there needs to be a common-sense approach, with buy-in from local people. Sadly, we are not currently seeing this in Denbighshire.
There are some sites which are well-suited to achieving greater biodiversity. However, allowing grass and weeds to overgrow in urban residential settings is often not appropriate and is unlikely to bring any tangible environmental benefits. In fact many of the locations are largely devoid of flowers and insects: they are far from being biodiverse.
These usually small patches of land constitute a tiny proportion of land in the area but cause disproportionate annoyance. If residents wished their surroundings to look like this, they would actively manage their own gardens similarly, but they almost universally do not.
Ironically, often large natural areas exist nearby, rendering the sites even less justifiable. Grassed areas in residential communities were developed for aesthetic reasons and to allow exercise and play. With general agreement, some or parts of these can be managed to encourage attractive and biodiverse wildflower meadows but we must be realistic as to the limits of what can be achieved, and avoid putting ideology ahead of common-sense.
Unkempt areas are often a trap for dog faeces and litter, a fire hazard when dry, and will encourage vermin and fly tipping. There is a concern that the sites are also devaluing neighbouring properties. Residents feel that in certain places they have reduced road visibility, provided cover for criminals, ruined the view for those who are housebound and made life more miserable for those with hayfever.
Worse still, this unrelenting policy seems to have created a mindset whereby untidiness is rife, with weeds and poorly-cut grass along many of our streets. All in all, there is the perception that the council no longer cares about the quality of the local urban environment.
I have held countless conversations with senior officers of Denbighshire County Council. I have proposed a more pragmatic approach which takes advantage of more appropriate and often more expansive areas, where positive environmental impact can be higher, allowing residential areas to retain a sense of pride. Land ownership across the public sector, and within the local authority alone, is more than sufficient to accommodate biodiversity schemes without degrading built-up residential areas.
Denbighshire officers have now agreed to cut two areas of concern at Nant Close, Rhuddlan and Fern Way, Rhyl, and reassess how these sites are managed year-round. This is a positive step forward and neighbouring residents are extremely pleased that the council has acted on their concerns after a lengthy campaign.
Unfortunately, despite some success, there continues to be a lack of consultation with neighbouring residents, or prior warning before a site is to be redesignated as a “wildflower site”. Many feel that a somewhat obsessive and misguided environmental crusade is resulting in their opinions and concerns being ignored. I am becoming aware of sites where residents are simply taking to cutting the grass themselves.
Denbighshire need to listen, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. There is no value in engaging in a dispute with residents for no appreciable gain.