We are in a time of massive decline in UK biodiversity. 41% of UK species have declined since the 1970s and individually, many species’ populations have crashed - for example, there are 95% fewer hedgehogs now than in the 1950s. The UK has lost almost half of its wildlife and plant species as a result of human and land development since the Industrial Revolution. Britain has lost more of its natural biodiversity than almost anywhere else in western Europe. Flying insects in the UK have declined by 60%, resulting in declining bird populations, and much of this decline is due to loss of habitat.
Something everyone can do to improve grassland habitats for pollinators and birds is to encourage wildflowers and grasses to grow wherever they can. By creating beautiful wild areas on our verges, in our gardens and in green spaces around town we can make a real difference. This is a real chance to do something to encourage wildlife and to discover that the wild is not necessarily untidy or unkempt.
Attractive, cared-for wild grasslands can be created with mown borders and paths, with other areas allowed to grow so that wildflowers can bloom and the grasses can flower. These wild areas don’t require watering and need less management than regular mowing but they do still need help to achieve the best results.
Longer areas of grass should still be mown to allow more desirable species to flourish and reduce the vigour of less desirable species. The cutting regime will depend on the mix of species but is typically done once between late June and the end of August. For fertile sites, a second cut between the end of August and late November can be done. It is usually a good idea to leave the arisings in situ for a few days so seeds drop to the ground before collecting them up to reduce soil fertility. Perennial weeds such as docks and nettles should be pulled out by hand or weed killer can be used as a spot treatment but care needs to be taken not to kill the wildflowers alongside them! Yellow rattle is a great plant to reduce grasses in favour of wildflowers, as it is semi-parasitic on grasses and helps keep them under control. The arisings can be used for compost.
Here in Watlington the Marlbrook Meadow and Stonor Green are recent examples of trials of this approach, which can also be done in private gardens. Is there anywhere you can help turn into a biodiversity hotspot for wildflowers and grasses?
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