Building on No-Mow-May. What Local Authorities can do to Embed Nature-Recovery.

A sobering recent study by the conservation charity Buglife showed a 58% decline in flying insects from 2004 – 2021. While there is lots of action being taken to address this, it isn’t enough and often lacks a strategy.

Plantlife’s annual No-Mow May campaign that calls on garden owners to down mowers and strimmers during May is well established in the UK and gathers momentum every year. It allows some much-needed respite for nature, providing a resort for pollinators, insects, and the growth of wildflowers. Think Airbnb for wildlife! The benefits are obvious, providing habitat, reducing pollution, locking carbon away below ground level, and supplying a banquet for pollinators as flowers bloom throughout the month. 

All good things must come to an end, and they do quite dramatically in June when the hum of strimmers and mowers can be heard chopping down the long grass, wildflowers, and everything else in their path. No-Mow-May becomes Strim-Like-Mad-June! Many local authorities and homeowners don’t have the capability, capacity, or desire to collect the arisings leaving piles of long grass on the ground. This suffocates the crown of the grass and feeds the root zone with nitrogen as it decomposes. Sounds great right? Well, no, while it leads to lush healthy growth of grass in time, native wildflowers species require lower soil fertility to thrive, and this is aided by routinely removing the grass arisings.

High-profile victims of this June cut can be hedgehogs sadly with a local hedgehog hospital recently reporting double the number of injured hedgehogs this year, following the No-Mow-May campaign. 

While the campaign has done wonders to raise awareness for the climate and biodiversity crises, it’s evident we must go further, play the long game, and have a clearer strategy in place for creating habitat, and uplifting biodiversity. Cue Nature Recovery!

Allowing gardens and green spaces to grow undisturbed for a longer period e.g., between April – October gives nature a larger window of opportunity to thrive and minimises mechanical intervention. These areas can then be cut, and arisings removed later in the season when much of the Flora and Fauna is dormant.

Another successful strategy is to leave smaller zones completely uncut for year-round habitat adjacent to mown areas for recreation and access. These can still be maintained and cared for to remove any invasive weeds and enhanced with planted trees, log piles, and bug hotels, but escape intensive management which in turn gives sanctuary to wildlife.  

Local authorities and councils have a huge part to play in leading the way and setting the standards given the number of parks, gardens, and green spaces they own and manage. A clear nature-recovery strategy is important which logically sets out how each individual space is to be managed and maintained. This should be done by taking the individual site aspects and characteristics into account, and considering how it links up with other green spaces to create nature recovery corridors through local communities and homes. Green spaces that do not link up create biodiversity voids which have a huge impact on the local environment and eco-systems.

Mapping and classifying these areas are an important element of this strategy so they are clearly defined and identified. Implementing regular wildlife surveys to establish what effects the approach is having on biodiversity over time is essential so that a picture can be built up, and any management approaches tweaked or changed that aren’t working.

Finally, communication and education are key so that members of the public fully understand what is being done, why, and the impact this has on them and future generations. Physical signage and information boards are useful, backed by good communication and social media plans to reinforce the positive message and benefits. In addition to these measures tightly mown areas around nature recovery sites helps with public perception as it shows the approach is deliberate and they are being regularly attended to and managed. Consider mosaic mowing, interesting walking paths through longer vegetation, or simply a wide cut around the perimeter of the site to give a sharp contrast. Happy Re-Naturing!

Author
Tom Wood

Tom Wood

Tom Wood is a Chartered Horticulturist with international experience in the amenity horticulture and landscape sector.

He holds operational and project management experience in both the public and private sector and has expertise in the management of parks, gardens and green spaces.

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