August 2010


If you’re here, you’ve obviously got a spare 30 seconds.

I suggest you spend your 30 seconds supporting this campaign, if you haven’t already: Pavlovsk Experimental Station is a  scientific collection of berries and fruit in Russia, under imminent threat from real-estate development. The Russian President could intervene to save it –  but more pressure is needed.

Pavlovsk is a unique resource – a collection of over 5,000 varieties of berries and fruit – 90% of which are not found in any other repository.

Established in 1926, it was conceived of as a legacy for future generations – a vision that should provide some hope in our world of climate change, massive biodiversity loss and industrial agriculture.

As those campaigning to protect it point out: “humanity needs crops to survive. As the climate changes and new threats to existing crop varieties appear, the ones we have now need to adapt, and the diversity found at the Pavlovsk Station provides this adaptation potential for a broad range of fruits and berries. We need to grow new breeds of all kinds of crops — grains, fruits, vegetables — to feed ourselves and our children. To do that, we need the rich diversity of characteristics like those found at Pavlovsk.”

Its plants can’t just be rehoused: it hosts thousands of rare species that can’t just be uprooted and moved and which are hard to breed from seed and so cannot just be stored in ordinary seed banks.

I’ve mentioned that berries actually unhinge me – and the thought of a place which hosts 1000 varieties of strawberries from 40 countries – or 893 varieties of blackcurrant –  just completely blows my awe-and-joy gasket. To think of that lost forever? To real-estate?

There are only a few days left to try to save the collection –  and at this stage that requires a presidential intervention. Internet campaigning-  by petitions and Twitter – has already got President Medvedev’s attention – but more pressure is needed.

During the siege of Leningrad, scientists protecting the station’s resources apparently  starved to death while surrounded by the edible collection – in that context I definitely felt I could spare 30 seconds to do my bit.

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Ah, snails! If I had a bigger space I’d grow some extra crops especially for them and we’d all live happily ever after in a fecund nirvana where swathes of green were exquisitely enhanced by delicate trails of silver.

As it is, they plunge me into existential angst as I watch the tattered lace of ex-leaves disappear under a slow wave of grey slime. After much internal debate about killing pests (then externalised), I quickly became a dehumanised killing machine.

My only hope of salvation resides in my continuing guilt pangs and occasional decisions to let one go.  (Which, remarkably, after reflecting on its brush with death and considering how best to find meaning in a fleeting existence, doesn’t conclude its short lifetime would best be spent creating a great work of literature, but rather devotes itself to rampant reproduction).

This offers an excuse to post my entry into last year's Emsworth Village Show in the category of Livestock 1: Best Chicken, so that you can all appreciate how usefully I spend my own fleeting existence.

I’ve been told I should just ‘rehome’ them but, short of taking a bucketful six stops on the Piccadilly line, I’m not sure that will do the job. They actually move damn fast, so I think taking snails on the Tube might be more antisocial than getting on having not washed for some time, whilst broadcasting tinny music from earphones turned up extra loud so it can still be heard over one’s yapping into one’s mobile telephonic device, whilst one’s spare hand shoves one fistful of aromatic fast-f0od after another into one’s animated gob thus spraying oily fragments across the carriage.

(No, I don’t travel well.)

But now, for all embattled gardeners, familiar with the suspicion that snails will always find their way back, there is to be a mass science experiment to test the theory!

Swap snails with your neighbours and see if they come back. Wife swapping is so last season.

I’ve just spent a week in beautiful Devon getting my first taste of field biology, so I’m hungry for more and this sounds like great fun. There are teams and everything! Anyone else planning on joining in?

Note:  I’m also genuinely pleased to learn there is a publication called Mollusc World.