Harrogate’s ‘rewilding’: untidy or biodiversity boon?
Last updated Jun 8, 2021
Buttercups on West Park Stray

Harrogate district residents may have noticed the town is looking different this year — as swathes of green spaces, including on the Stray, have been left alone by mowers and strimmers so nature can grow free.

‘Rewilding’ is one of the words of the moment, with councils across the country hoping to improve biodiversity and attract bees, birds and insects.

The new look in Harrogate has been welcomed by many, who see it as a sign that Harrogate Borough Council, which manages our parks and green spaces, is serious about improving biodiversity.

But others who cherish Harrogate’s long reputation for organised and elegant planting, believe it makes the town look untidy.

In the eye of the beholder

Shan Oakes from the Harrogate & District Green Party told the Stray Ferret that prim and proper Victorian-style floral displays can look old-fashioned.

In recent history, wildflower meadows have slipped into a dramatic decline as the species-rich grasslands are ploughed up for housing, farming and roads.

She said wildflowers will encourage pollinating bees as well as insects which can good food for birds.

“It’s excellent the council is thinking seriously about this from nature’s point of view.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It doesn’t have to be a mess.”

“One or two people might think it looks untidy and not respectful. But isn’t it more respectful to be kinder to nature?

“If bees go, we all go.”

‘Very unattractive’

Alison Freeman lives near the Stray but said rewilding makes the town look “untidy and unsightly”

She said she fears broken glass and bottles lurking in the undergrowth which she believes poses a safety risk.

“It’s very unattractive and it has the potential to be dangerous. Beer bottles could get dumped in the long grass.I t’s unusable and I can’t walk on it.

She criticised Harrogate Borough Council’s approach to grass cutting this year.

“Don’t they care about the town? They are driving Harrogate down.

“The whole verge by the West Park Stray looks like the council hasn’t bothered to look after it.

“Bees are important, we are not anti-bee. But I haven’t seen any bees on the buttercups by the Stray”.

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Judy D’Arcy Thompson from the Stray Defence Association took a more balanced approach to the issue.

She called rewilding “a very emotive subject with passions running high both for and against the wilding”.

She added:

“Our Stray is arguably Harrogate’s most important environmental asset and of tremendous benefit to the whole area. Throughout the past difficult months during the pandemic it has been an amazing green sanctuary for everyone to use.

“It is essential to strike a balance between the need for safeguarding and enhancing its ecological role alongside its open and free use by people.”

Great news for wildlife

As well as letting some areas grow free, Harrogate Borough Council recently planted 5,500 wildflower plugs on two areas of the Stray near Leeds Road and York Place. They were helped volunteers from Bilton Conservation Group.

A council spokesman said the new biodiversity areas will provide habitats and green corridors for some of the 1,500 species of insect pollinators across the district.

He added:

“Residents and visitors may have started to notice that some areas of the Harrogate district are being left to grow and not mown. 

This is great news for wildlife as the longer grass and wildflowers will provide food and homes for pollinating insects, as well as supporting our aim of reducing our carbon footprint.

As well as leaving specific areas to grow and encourage biodiversity, we have also planted – with the help of volunteers – more than 5,000 wildflower plugs on specific areas of the Stray in Harrogate.

We’ll be keeping an eye on how things progress and will be providing regular updates on social media channels.”