Reporter 462, 26 February 2001
Contrary to the hope expressed by Cynthia Foster (‘Bye bye blackbirds’, Reporter 461), it appears that it is indeed University policy to clear out all bushes below head-height on campus.
I recently found grounds and gardens staff carrying out such ‘maintenance’ on an area near Cavendish Hall, and was informed that it was now a policy to remove undergrowth in which people could hide, as it was a ‘security hazard’.
While security is obviously of great importance on campus, particularly in the light of attacks on campus in the last year, I would question whether the removal of any greenery below head height is really the most practical way of addressing this issue. I have three major objections to this practice:
One of the campus’ most pleasant features has been the amount of green space retained around the buildings and courtyards, which I would personally not like to see reduced to a few bits of rather drastic topiary.
Secondly, these alterations have a significant impact on wildlife on campus, by effectively removing all shelter, especially for roosting birds (this site and that referred to by Ms Foster were formerly used by thrushes, starlings, finches and sparrows, all of which are in decline nationwide).
The ability to use patches of greenery in urban areas is of increasing importance to British wildlife, and I sincerely hope that the groundskeeping policy of the university does not result in unusable ‘cosmetic’ greenery.
Finally, I am far from convinced that even removing every plant less than six feet high will make any difference to security on the campus, which is still full of dark streets and courtyards in which people can lurk if they are so inclined – lighting and security patrols would seem to be the best way to address this.
If people hiding in bushes is really a major concern, planting roses or brambles to actively discourage it would seem to be an ideal solution.
I would point out that the first aim on the estate services ‘mission statement’ advertised in the campus directory is ‘customer satisfaction’.
I am not satisfied, and judging from Ms Foster’s letter, I am not alone.
Further to ‘Bye bye blackbirds’, Reporter 461, I have over the years chosen to get off the bus a stop early, in order to take the longer but more pleasant walk through the arcade of trees and shrubs along the path in the corner of St. George’s Field.
The brief annual show of blackthorn flowers was the signal that spring had arrived, and last year a collared dove nested within a metre of what must have been thousands of heads passing by.
As a microcosm of semi-natural England it even had its problem with invading Japanese Knotweed. But no more. As of a few weeks ago it is now just another totally boring area of lawn and trees, with minimal wildlife interest.
Does this University have no parks and gardens policy beyond ensuring that the grass is never more than a few millimetres tall and all native plant species are replaced as soon as possible?
Certainly for the students on our biodiversity and conservation masters programme it is a clear case of ‘do what I say, not what I do’. In future I will staying on the bus a little longer – the Parkinson Steps are now offering about the same wildlife interest as my old route.
We recently had a letter published in the Reporter which criticised the transparency review being carried out within the HE sector. This is the scheme whereby staff have to keep 24 hour diaries of their activities as the quid pro quo to secure an ‘additional’ £1.5bn of government funding – ‘additional’ in the context of many years of sustained cuts.
We saw this as the final straw in an increasing, and often pointless, imposition of audits, assessments, and reviews, which can and do detract from our ability to deliver high quality research and teaching.
Amongst the dozens of welcome messages of support we have gratefully received from colleagues, there was one lone voice of dissent. This letter claimed that we were ‘unaware of the facts’ regarding the Transparency Review and had perpetuated myths ‘based on a disregard for the evidence.’
So there you have it, you just can’t please everyone – especially the lucky firm J M Consulting who have the contract to implement this irrelevant ‘bean-counting’ exercise across 175 institutions.
The survey of contract research staff is certainly welcome. But it is difficult to see how any reading of it justifies the complacent conclusion that contract staff are ‘on the whole happy with the career development opportunities on offer’ (Reporter 461).
What is in fact suggested by the report is a fair amount of indifference to and/or ignorance of the opportunities available. Of the 29.1% (224 out of 769) who thought it was worthwhile replying or had the time to do so, just a third had attended an introductory day.
Even less reported that there was a formal induction within their schools/departments to help them settle in. Nearly half of the respondents felt that departments did not discuss future options with them in good time before contracts ran out.
The report recognises throughout the need to raise awareness of the particular requirements of contract research staff and to improve the effective delivery and take up of the services that are available. For this reason, it deserves to be widely read.
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