Fyson on ... taking time out from party conference rhetoric to translate green aims into garden wildlife

Those in search of relief from the bear garden spectacle of the party conferences may have consoled themselves with a wander round their back gardens in the autumn sunshine.

There, they might have reflected on how straightforward the struggle for survival is in nature, where it is complicated by neither policy compromise nor the desperate desire to please.

The declaration of deceptive new initiatives, the reformulation of old policies and the focus on personalities do little to justify these over-hyped national gatherings. Opposition leaders commit to an ambitious range of policies covered by the caveat that the party will first have to familiarise itself with the circumstances of power.

To judge by prime minister Gordon Brown's speech, the government is also talking itself into opposition mode. Seldom can a ruling leader's speech have been so wide-ranging or have cast so many offers and claims before the electorate. And yet behind the rhetoric lurked the shadow of public service cuts. Planners will wearily note the absence of commitment to house building and infrastructure investment.

Brown did endorse a "green economy" and action on climate change, although how these vital matters will be tackled satisfactorily without enhanced and well-resourced planning is unclear. In the jargon of the moment, planning must put itself forward as a "frontline service" or risk slipping into obscurity, taking all sorts of environmentally and socially important endeavours with it.

So a spot of gardening leave seemed appropriate for the duration of the conference season. In the circumstances English Nature's new Big Wildlife Garden website, which "creates an online network of gardens and open spaces" and "encourages people to discover how to attract more wildlife into their gardens", was an instructive port of call, particularly for those to whom the neat discipline of the suburban rectangular garden does not appeal. Meanwhile, environment secretary Hilary Benn announced a review of the wildlife and ecological network in England, including its links through national parks, with a view to "re-wilding" it.

The Big Wildlife website invites anyone to register their patch and offers helpful advice about how to support birds, insects and other small animals. The injunctions not to be too tidy and to preserve mature trees are refreshing. The "unmade" garden with insect-friendly flowers and a smaller lawn has a useful future. It may not be long before estate agents extol the virtues of the "good-size woodland glade-style garden".


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