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New dawn for lawns as people mow less and boost wildlife, charity says

Daisies in Regent’s Park, London (Anthony Devlin/PA)
Daisies in Regent’s Park, London (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Gardeners are embracing wilder lawns in a shift that is good news for plants and wildlife, charity Plantlife said ahead of its annual “No Mow May” campaign.

Plantlife is encouraging people to leave the lawnmower in the shed for May and to mow less and at different lengths and frequencies through the summer to create a mosaic of habitats that benefit wildflowers, bees and other insects.

As part of its campaign, it encourages gardeners to take part in an “every flower counts” citizen science survey in the last week of May to see what is growing in the nation’s lawns.

The survey allows people to see the difference they are making for nature through mowing less and encouraging pollen and nectar-rich wildflowers in their lawn, by providing them with their personal nectar score.

A wilder lawn in Wiltshire (Archie Thomas/Plantlife/PA)
A wilder lawn in Wiltshire (Archie Thomas/Plantlife/PA)

The charity says the survey’s results show a shift towards less mowing and wilder gardens, with 78.8% of the 2,157 participants choosing not to mow their lawns for a month before the survey last year, compared to 33.6% of those who took part in 2019.

In 2021 those who did not mow their lawn in May reported more than 250 different plants among the grass, including wild strawberry, wild garlic, and rare species such as adder’s-tongue fern, meadow saxifrage, snake’s-head fritillary and eyebright.

There were even wild orchids, including species which have suffered significant decline such as man and green-winged orchids, as well as southern and northern marsh orchids and bee orchids in lawns which had been left alone.

People taking part in the survey recorded almost 100 species of pollinators in their lawns in 2021, including 25 types of moths and butterflies, and 24 different bees including the scarce moss carder bee.

Selfheal and white tailed bumblebee (Trevor Dines/Plantlife/PA)
Selfheal and white-tailed bumblebee (Trevor Dines/Plantlife/PA)

A typical lawn in the survey had 17 daisies on a one metre square patch, and a smattering of buttercups and dandelions, with germander speedwell and field forget-me-nots the next most likely plants to be seen.

The flowers produce nectar and pollen for insects, with dandelion-rich lawns particularly wildlife-friendly, Plantlife said.

Although dandelions are outnumbered 85 to one by daisies on the average lawn of people taking part in the every flower counts survey, they produce 9% of its pollen and 37% of its nectar sugar.

Just eight dandelions could produce enough nectar to meet an adult bumblebee’s baseline energy needs, the charity said.

Dandelions in a garden lawn (Archie Thomas/Plantlife/PA)
Dandelions in a garden lawn (Archie Thomas/Plantlife/PA)

Ian Dunn, chief executive of Plantlife, said: “These results demonstrate that our call to No Mow May has set seed and laid down deep roots.

“The results underline how embracing a little more wildness in our gardens can be a boon for plants, butterflies and bees.

“We are excited by the unfolding dawn of a new British lawn.”

Oli Wilson, modeller for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme, a citizen science programme run by a number of organisations to monitor plant species across the UK, said: “May is a crucial month for flowering plants that need to get a firm foothold but we are not advocating never mowing after May.

“Plantlife guidance across the year recommends a layered approach to the garden cut where shorter grass is complemented by areas of longer grass.

“This two-tone approach boosts floral diversity and nectar and pollen production through the year.”

Desire path through a meadow (Matt Pitts/Plantlife/PA)
Desire path through a meadow (Matt Pitts/Plantlife/PA)

One way to encourage plants that like shorter grass, such as dove’s-foot cranes-bill and self-heal, alongside flowers including cuckooflower and meadow buttercup that prefer longer grass, is to create regularly mown “desire paths”, the charity said.

Felicity Harris, head of participation, Plantlife, added: “Each year the trend towards wilder lawns is growing from the grassroots up, and it is set to bloom as never before in 2022.

“It is not only plants and pollinators that benefit – we do too. Less mowing gives garden lovers more time to relax and reconnect with nature.

“Those hours previously spent mowing can be used to spending time with others building a wildlife pond, a bug hotel or a reptile refugium.”

To find out more about No Mow May and taking part in the “every flower counts” citizen science survey which runs from May 21-30, people can visit:
http://nomowmay.plantlife.org.uk

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