Nature Notes from Budapest: colonisation, silent gardening etc.

Colonisation and the discomfort of playing God

Refurbishing a house in Budapest – gutting it and rebuilding it to be low energy but with traditional aesthetics – I have learnt about nature’s extraordinary capacity for colonisation. Modest changes to the garden meant lifting many stones: under each was a wealth of life – earwigs, beetles, wireworms, woodlice, lizards. A pile of stones, saved from a wall which had to be demolished, and put onto the lawn in September last year, was, by spring, packed with lizards. I had to move these stones with great care, and slowly, to be sure that the lizard population was not traumatised.

The speed at which creatures colonise the ground underneath stones is extraordinary. I had not realised how important stone piles are. Needless to say, the garden will have lots of them.

Now, since the stones have been moved, the lizards have taken up residence behind the band of external xps insulation at the foot of the house. Sometimes they even go inside the bricks, having discovered a small hole in the wall. This gives me another concern: when the chaps come to fit the main wall insulation and render the whole thing, will the lizards run away or will they just get buried inside the wall? I will have to make them an escape tunnel under the xps. But then when the chap comes to lay the garden path, that really will be their last chance.

Some were not so lucky. Gutting of the house was – gutting. Thousands of bees and wasps and flies were living in holes in the rendering on the old walls. Their homes were destroyed as the plaster was hammered off. I can only hope they also found somewhere to winter.

When digging the pond, I realised many worms and other species had to be displaced: loss of one habitat for the creation of a new, aquatic one, designed for the benefit of frogs and perhaps even newts. It was with discomfort that I realised I was making decisions like a God, deciding which species should have a new home, and which should be moved. Creating a wildlife pond has its downsides if you happen to be a worm.

Silent gardening

It is difficult to complain about neighbours’ noisy gardening when you, yourself, are responsible for the noise of construction works. Nonetheless, I did. We have neighbours who garden noisily. Their contractors come once or twice a month and are armed with trimmers, strimmers, sprayers, mowers and leaf blowers. All powered and raucous. The noise is unholy and disturbs the birds, lizards, and some of the humans.

In researching about silent gardening, which turns out to be quite a movement, I came across actor Tom Conti’s struggles with his noisy, leaf-blowing neighbours.

This quotation of his sums the issue up: “If these people can’t stand the sight of a leaf then it’s not a leaf blower they need, it’s a psychiatrist.”

Wasp hysteria and evolution

At lunch today on the terrace at Park Vendeglo I observed three people at a table struggling with a wasp. The wasp wanted its share of the people’s lunch, and the three people were unhappy about this. The woman screeched, flapping her hands around; the two men with her tried to swat the wasp away. In all, a great deal of fuss and panic.

In contrast, this evening our cat was having supper outside and three or four wasps circled her plate and kept jumping into the food to carve off a little piece and fly away with it. The cat was not bothered. She just carried on eating – minding her own business while the wasps minded theirs.

Given that humans are much more intelligent and self-aware than cats, I assume that there must be an evolutionary benefit to hysterics and panicky swatting of wasps. I have not figured this one out.

Coaching for humans

In looking for a new home for mother-in-law’s dog, we came across a dog pensione in Southern Hungary which not only gives a temporary home for dogs, but it offers all sorts of training. This training includes making dogs more sociable, teaching them to be less aggressive, less dominant and more disciplined, tolerant and better behaved.

This raises an important question. We are prepared to teach dogs to be better members of the community. I think it would make sense to send people for similar training. It seems strange that we are happy to pay for dogs to be retrained but don’t consider retraining of anti-social humans – the payback would be much higher. We would start, for example, with owners of factory farms, the manufacturers of leaf-blowers and other enemies of nature. A few months intensive retraining at a dog pensione would revitalise them, making them kinder people. Their families and friends, wildlife, farm animals and those seeking peace and quiet, would all rejoice.

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