Love it or hate it, by mid-May the central grassland area of Bradlaugh Fields is frothing with a sea of cow parsley up to 4 feet tall, overwhelming most other plants apart from the grasses. From the Independent:
Simon Smart, from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Lancaster … made it clear that cow parsley is very much undergoing a boom.
On monitored plots along linear landscape features such as road edges, the survey found, between 1978 and 2007 the plots in which cow parsley occurred increased in Britain from 129 to 204 (a 58 per cent increase) … To put it simply, there’s more than half as much again of the stuff, along the sides of our country lanes, as there was 30 years or so ago. But why is it happening? There seem to be two reasons: the way we manage roadside verges today, and the increased fertility of the landscape as a result of intensive farming.
In the past, Smart said, verges were often grazed by farm animals, or they were cut for hay, and the grass and other plants, once mown, were taken off. Now they are mown by local councils, and the mowings are merely left in place, which adds nutrients to the soil and makes it more fertile. And soil fertility is being increased further by the huge amounts of fertilisers farmers now add to the landscape, and even by motor vehicle exhausts, which add their own nutrients to roadside verges in the form of oxides of nitrogen.
This is bad news for many plants, since a lot of our wild flowers – counter-intuitive though it may seem – need infertile soil to flourish. Otherwise a few big robust plants will outcompete everything else.
Being one of the numerous carrot family or Umbellifers, cow parsley has the characteristic ferny, finely-dissected foliage and the umbrella-like flower heads, which are very popular with a range of short-tongued insects like hoverflies.