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10 Abril 2012

The mystery of Britain's vanishing gardens

Evelyn Waugh saw them as timeless arcadias; Austen's heroines swooned in them. But if gardens lie so deep in our DNA, why are they disappearing?

NIGEL FARNDALE

The Telegraph (Reino Unido) [Crónica]

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The mystery of our vanishing gardens Photo: Getty Images

The comedian Stewart Lee is droll on the subject of the countryside, and why he hates it. What particularly annoys him is the otters, or rather the assumption that everyone who lives in a town must secretly long to see otters from their kitchen windows. He lives in Hackney and is proud of his metropolitan identity. Nothing to apologise for. No need for gardens. Or otters.

Personally, I did want to see them, which is why I moved out of London five years ago. They've kept a low profile so far, but we have seen plenty of deer. Indeed, the first time I saw a mother and fawn tiptoe past my study I thought: here's why we moved, for this sense of living in harmony with nature. The second time I saw them, I ran outside to scare them away. The damn things had eaten all our roses.

This isn't to say we didn't encounter the natural world in our London garden, too. The foxes and grey squirrels were ubiquitous, of course, but there were also hedgehogs, jays and grey-spotted woodpeckers. And toads thrived there because our small garden backed on to that of our neighbour's, and this arrangement continued all the way up the terraced road, with the end houses sealing the sanctuary in. It was what is known as a wildlife corridor.

When it comes to encouraging wildlife and communing with nature, a town garden, however small, is better than nothing. Or so I thought, because it seems that, increasingly, town dwellers think that nothing is better than something; or rather they think decking or flagstones are better.

According to a landmark study by the London Wildlife Trust, based on aerial photos of the city taken over a 10-year period, 500 'green' gardens are disappearing in London each year, the equivalent of two and a half Hyde Parks. In the rest of the country, the situation is even worse, with nearly half of all homes in the North East having paved over most of their front gardens. This pattern is repeated everywhere, with around a third in the East and the South West. Another study by Leeds University reveals a 13 per cent increase in the paving over of green spaces nationwide. Gardeners' World, meanwhile, the BBC's flagship gardening programme, has gone from a peak of four million viewers 10 years ago to less than two million now.

 

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