The Irish Times view on TCD’s lawns: let them run wild

Trinity College Dublin wants to manage its very formal front lawns as wildflower meadows

Trinity College’s front lawns are the main public pathway into the college, and also the green areas of the university most easily visible from the street. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Trinity College’s front lawns are the main public pathway into the college, and also the green areas of the university most easily visible from the street. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Trinity College Dublin wants to manage its very formal front lawns as wildflower meadows. This is a bold and telling indication of a shift in our cultural attitudes to the natural world, driven by increased awareness of the biodiversity and climate emergencies. Trinity’s front lawns are the main public pathway into the college, and also the green areas of the university most easily visible from the street. They are right in the centre of our capital city.

Trinity has cannily left the final decision to the public, through an online poll. This should insulate the decision from future criticism, and engage us in rethinking how we manage nature.

There is a long tradition that urban green spaces should be rigidly controlled, demonstrating the subjection of nature to culture. Public lawns are still generally reduced to a single species of grass, and mowed as smooth as billiard tables. Flowering plants are corralled in discrete beds, regimented in unnatural patterns.

Wildflower meadows, in contrast, offer a riot of bloom in season that will seem unruly to some, and delight many others. Out of season they may appear “untidy”, until one learns to appreciate, to paraphrase the poet Michael Longley, that a seed head can be just as beautiful as a flower.

But the switch from ultra-management to wilder spaces, which has also been embraced by some other universities, and by some local authorities, businesses and farmers, is not merely a matter of taste. It is a necessary response to disturbing news about the collapse of biodiversity, especially of insect populations, with potentially catastrophic human impacts. Insect diversity is intimately linked to plant diversity, through pollination, on which 70 per cent of crops worldwide rely. Wildflower meadows, almost vanished from our intensified agriculture, can maximise benefits for pollinating insects. So this move by Trinity is one more step in advancing and publicising the admirable All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, originally developed by the college’s Jane Stout, and by Úna Fitzpatrick of the National Biodiversity Data Centre. Many more such initiatives are urgently needed.

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