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Long & Short of it

tyne valley express long and short of it

May was ‘No Mow May’ – so how did it go?  Well for those who did participate, I hope you have stuck it out well into June because most of the flowers haven’t yet burst into bloom. May was such a chilly month that we are significantly behind an average year but even if it were a more typical year, May is still a little too early for grassland flowers here in the north-east. The concept of no mow May isn’t just a gimmick but can be a real benefit to wildlife. 

As I travel around our area and even walk around my own village, I am constantly annoyed by our obsession for tidiness. A short-mown lawn is apparently more attractive to most of us than a grassland full of wild flowers. The problem is that to most wildlife a short-mown lawn is a desert, a place to pass over on the hunt for food. An area of wild flowers, including the humble dandelion is a feast of pollen and nectar.

At a time when our insects are in crisis, so many fewer than there were just 10 years ago, we really should be doing everything we can to help them. Our own food supply needs them after all! Many of our crops need pollinators but we seem to have a skewed sense of reality where we know we need them but we can’t bring ourselves to help them – it’s always someone else’s problem. 

I am struck when I visit some of Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s reserves where the wild flowers flourish at how many butterflies, bees and flies there are and yet on the same day I can venture into a piece of average countryside and see almost nothing.

It’s not as simple, of course, as just letting grass grow and perhaps this is part of the problem – notwithstanding some people’s clear mowing obsession! Grasslands do need cut in late summer and raked off or you can mow monthly and allow some of the shorter growing flowers to thrive. Daisies, dandelions, selfheal and speedwells do quite well on a monthly mowing cycle, other plants such as oxeye daisy, yellow rattle and cranesbills need a longer summer season.

So what are my tips for a wild flower lawn? If you are starting with nothing, then you may well need to introduce plug-plants or seed; Plug plants are quite easy, simply plant them in. Seed needs a bit of effort to rake and open up the grass before getting them sown then scraping it around again to get the seeds into the ground and not just to become bird food. The snag can be over rigorous grass so no fertiliser, ideally for a few years. Then try to get seed of a plant called yellow rattle to grow. This is a plant that is partly parasitic on grass so reduces its growth – a magic plant then, as the lawn  won’t grow much with this present and will provide a swathe of yellow. 

Once you get the wild flowers to grow, you will have to mow it off in late summer or early autumn. It will look a bit yellowed at that point but will soon green up again. Let seeds drop out of the cuttings then rake it up and remove it. Yes, your lawn won’t be a green neat carpet but it should be more colourful and home to a lot of insects – remember most pollen eating insects don’t bite or sting! I tend to mow around the edges to keep grass of paths or flower beds and to prove I am doing it all on purpose! Remember too – the less you mow the less fuel you use and those petrol mowers are particularly bad for their emissions and indeed noise!  

So do yourself, and the world, a favour – cut less grass, use less fuel, make less noise, enjoy more flowers and support more insects! 

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