One man went to mow….managing public space for wildflowers

Have you ever been stunned that a nice patch of wildflowers on a road verge, village green or park gets mown down just when it’s at its peak of beauty and utility? Me too.

So I was delighted to see that Plantlife are running an important campaign to highlight the importance of road verges for wildflowers, and the wildlife that depend on them – and how they need the right kind of management. It’s not difficult – just like the linear meadows they effectively are, road verges are best managed by mowing late in the season.

If a verge is already dominated by competitive grasses, then a very early cut is also a useful remediation, as it weakens the grasses and prevents them from flowering, while not affecting the wildflowers.

The main point though is that the arisings need to be removed, to reduce soil fertility – this is especially important if a topper is used to mow, as this creates a thick mulch which smothers delicate wildflowers.

And what’s true for road verges is equally true for any other piece of grassland under public management.

For the last 8 years, I have been working with Dorchester Town Council to manage a local park Maumbury Rings for its chalk downland wildlife. Maumbury Rings is a very important archaeological site (a Neolithic henge, then Roman amphitheatre, remodelled as civil war artillery emplacement). It also supports wide range of chalk downland flowers, including horseshoe vetch and squinancywort.

It’s taken a long time to build a good relationship with the council employees and they have conflicting priorities to balance:  some people want it to look “tidy” rather than have flowers. There’s also an ongoing problem with dog walkers not clearing up after their dogs.

This year the best areas for wildflowers have been left to grow on, while the areas dominated by grass have been cut. We’re fortunate that the Council were able to invest in a mower that can work on steep slopes.

maumbury mower

mowing Maumbury Rings

maumbury 2

The best areas for wildflower are left uncut until September – I  rake off the arisings (I haven’t yet persuaded the council to do this.)

I’ll post some more pics later in the summer to show how great it looks.

While the privately owned countryside continues to leak what little wildlife it has left, public spaces have the potential to be far far better managed for wildlife, plus of course being accessible for people to enjoy that wildlife.

We can all do our bit – so if you have a park, play area or verge near you that could be better managed, get in touch with your council and work with them to achieve that goal.

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About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in bees, biodiversity, greenspace, management, meadows, public land, road verges and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to One man went to mow….managing public space for wildflowers

  1. grahamburgess says:

    Have you a species mix list for Maumbury Rings ?

    graham@gyrdan.demon.co.uk

  2. Miles King says:

    Hi Graham, I have a species list for it yes – all the flowers are wild, none have been sown – apart from some yellow-rattle I introduced a few years ago in an effort to weaken some of the more vigorous grasses.

  3. Pingback: Make with the Rake | a new nature blog

  4. robseago says:

    Lots of us struggle to manage grassland in a good state and it is very difficult to balance. the various interests.

    I avoid summer mowing or grazing apart from a late May cut of the paths, which focus the footfall, and generally keeps the public from complaining about damp grass.

    I would like to see more bare ground and have been experimenting on this. My other concern is that I would like to maintain some long grass, bramble, and small woody scrub on the margins in the winter for invertebrates but giving it a second year it gets bigger than I would like. I have many years tried to balance these things and now get wonderful flowering in the summer, but it is mostly rather tall and lacks the bare patches. The fescues have largely been stifled out by tall flowers and coarser grasses.

    I really must start to write up my experiments so far.

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