June 2015, when I met Dave Bishop, the Chairman of Friends of Chorlton Meadows.
Things are about to change in Chorlton Meadows, though perhaps not in a way you’d expect. Dave founded the Friends of Chorlton Meadows with John Agar (a baker at Barbakan) and others in 2006. They felt that the local authority management scheme, through the (now lost) Mersey Valley Warden Service, didn’t place enough emphasis on encouraging biodiversity.
The group works with a number of partners on initiatives from putting up bat and bird boxes to updating environmental data records for the Greater Manchester Local Records Centre. They host educational events for the local community and get their hands dirty when a particular job needs to be done. Dave is a passionate advocate for the meadows. “Wildlife is becoming increasingly fragmented: every new development chips, piece by piece, at what we have left. Urban sites like the Mersey Valley are vital because they link together Sites of Biological Importance (SBIs) like Chorlton Ees and Ivy Green.”
“So much of today’s approach to environmental protection focuses on tree planting – it’s a quick PR win, but not what we need. The globalised trade in trees leads to the spread of infection and planting species which aren’t native to a specific area don’t actually help its biodiversity.”
This year sees two brand new management projects on the Meadows – although both are very old traditions! The first is the return of mowing, with hay being used to feed the animals at Wythenshawe Park Farm Centre. Sensitive mowing helps control invasive species, allowing a diverse range of wild flowers and insects to thrive. The second is a return to coppicing. This ancient practice entails cutting willow, hazel and ash trees back to ground level to regrow from stumps. It sounds drastic, but the practice lets in sunlight and helps a wider range of flora and fauna on the woodland floor.
“These meadows have been my open-air university for forty years now,” says Dave, which places him at the heart of a very Mancunian tradition. “Two hundred years ago, Manchester had lots of self-taught amateur botanists like me: they were working men – weavers, canal porters, factory hands. A particular hero of mine is Richard Buxton, an Ancoats shoemaker. His 1849 book, A Botanical Guide to the Flowering Plants, Ferns, Mosses and Algæ, Found Indigenous Within Sixteen Miles of Manchester (which you can read online via archive.org) is still so relevant today. I regularly find the plants he wrote about – often in the very same places.”
I’m transported to somewhere wonderful as I listen to Dave talk about Sweet Cicely, Meadow Saxifrage, Royal Ferns and Great Burnet, but all these species can be found in the Meadows – right on our doorsteps.
“You can’t protect the whole world, but you can do your best to protect your own little bit of it,” says Dave. And he’s right, of course.