Yet More Thoughtless Destruction

22 November 2011. Until around 9 am today, the public green outside my house was carpeted with a glorious patchwork of golden and russet Autumn leaves. Then the council turned up.

First, a gang of men with petrol-powered blowers made the morning hideous with their racket and stink while gathering the leaves into big piles. Then a vast metallic container towed by a chunky tractor emerged onto the scene.

the biggest vacuum cleaner in the world

This turned out to be a vacuum cleaner on a megalomaniac scale. Initially it seemed to get stuck on our small green, being too big and clumsy to negotiate its way past the trees. But it finally got going and proceeded down the green, removing all the accumulated leaves, churning the ground in its wake into corrugated ruts.

ruts left by heavy machinery

By the time the machinery had departed, we were left with something reminiscent of the aftermath of a tank battle - deep muddy tracks snaking down a green that remained a green only in name, being little more than a mud patch.

tank tracks down the green

I contacted the council and after considerable difficulty was put through to a relatively minor functionary - actually a subordinate of the person I had already stated was too low down the hierarchy to be able to help. But I gave it my best shot nevertheless. I asked what the reason was for vacuuming up the leaves, and was told "we do it every year." Pointing out that this wasn't really an answer to the question I had asked, I tried again. This time, the question elicited the response that it is done "for aesthetic reasons". OK, fair enough - tastes differ. But I find it hard to comprehend how anyone with their eyes open and their brains functioning could prefer the appearance of a rutted mud patch to that of a natural carpet of Autumn leaves. Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't think so - I think it's the other way around.

But aesthetics are not the real issue here anyway. The graceful decay of fallen leaves is part of the natural cycle of regeneration on which the mesh of life relies to remain healthy and robust. Upon it depends a complex community of detritivores from fungi to insects and earthworms, and upon them rely in turn other tiers of life including over-wintering birds and small mammals. Arbitrarily breaking that cycle must disrupt this mesh, and even if that's only a "minor" detriment in the scheme of things, do we really have the right to cause it needlessly? Chip away too long at the foundations and the walls will eventually collapse, even if you're only using a little pick.