Three wild ways with your lawn
Quick & Easy
Try mowing less often. Insects sheltering in the long grass provide food for birds and mammals. Bumble bees build nests in it. Seed heads feed other birds.
Grow in a Season
Remove the grass, prepare the ground carefully and sow a wildflower mix to create a colourful one-off display. It could support 40 insect species.
Longer term Project
Perennial native flowers from the locality can be plug-planted into the grass where yellow rattle has first been grown to weaken the grass. More than 1,400 species of insect feed on the leaves, stems and roots of native wild grassland flowers.
How to make a grassy lawn more useful for wildlife
- Avoid using chemicals (see introduction).
- Leave some “weeds” in the grass. Dandelions, daisies, self-heal, buttercups, clover and speedwell are a great source of pollen and nectar for pollinators.
- Mow less often to allow existing plants to flower and set seed. Short grass that is regularly cut supports quite a low number of plant and insect species.
- Leave areas uncut for periods of the year so that the grass can set seed.
LAWNS for BEES
Many bumble bees and solitary bees are in decline, meaning our crops are facing a shortage of pollinators. Grassy and flower-covered lawns are important habitats for these insects.
- Long grassy lawns are great for the bumble bees that build their nests in longer grass such as common carder, brown-banded carder, moss carder and red-shanked carder bees.
- The early bumble bee inhabits abandoned mammal nests in undisturbed areas.
- Shorter grass and sparse lawns are often used by tawny mining bees to create underground nests.
LONG GRASSY LAWNS for other CREATURES
- Craneflies and sawflies will breed here.
- Spiders build their webs within the tall grass to catch flies and hunting spiders creep through the grass to prey on other insects.
- Tall grass provides cover and traps moisture making ideal terrestrial habitat for a range of amphibians. The attracted insects then provide them with food. Froglets can shelter there is there is a pond nearby.
- Many species of micro-moths live in long grass. Moth caterpillars are a staple part of a blue tit’s diet. A large brood of blue tits is capable of eating more than 10,000 caterpillars before they fledge.
https// n-somerset.gov.uk.Tall grass management – North Somerset Council
How to grow an annual wildflower meadow
Whether your flower patch looks like this:
depends on preparation.
- If you want a rainbow of colour, opt for an annual meadow without grasses rather than a wildflower meadow.
- Native and non-native plants tend to be those supplied in an annual mix. They are the type of flowers that thrive on disturbed soil – what you could call “weeds”! However, the patch will attract more insects if the flowers are native and simple in form with an “open” face.
- Choose an open sunny area and sow in March or April into soil of normal fertility.
- If you are removing turf, dig out the coarse-leaved grasses as they out-compete the more delicate wild flowers. Use weed-supressing heavy duty cardboard for several months beforehand if necessary.
- Rotavate then rake over to ensure a fine tilth and water if necessary.
- Blend the seed mix with dry sand to make it easier to apply evenly.
- Mark out a grid with canes and sow according to the supplier’s suggested rate.
- Firm the seeds down to ensure contact with the earth.
- Protect from birds (with CDs on a line).
- Water the seedlings if it’s dry.
Some plants will flower within six weeks, others may take longer. An annual meadow will need to be sown yearly with fresh seed until the seed bank builds up. You will need to scarify the earth before sowing as annuals grow on disturbed land.
Wildflower meadow :establishment/RHS Gardening https://www.rhs.org.uk>advice>profile
A brief history of hay meadows
Wildflower meadows are essentially a man made environment. Before the dawn of agriculture wildflowers would have grown in forest glades created by fallen trees which let in the light so that seeds could germinate. On more open land the large herbivores would have created disturbed ground where flowers could replace grass. Once man began to domesticate animals meadows were necessary to provide hay for winter feeding.
Farmers in Swaledale, as at Muker in the photograph, still retain small walled fields with hay meadows for traditionally raised, high quality livestock. Hundreds of plant species cohabit in a delicate balance that depends on this ancient form of husbandry. A meadow is left to grow in Spring and Summer, cut in Autumn and lightly grazed in early Winter, with flower-rich hay from the meadow used for later winter livestock feeding. A low level of soil fertility prevents any species from becoming dominant and supports a high level of floral diversity.
Such species-rich grassland now only covers 1% of the UK’s land area. Hay meadows with abundant wildflowers were a feature of agricultural land until the Second World War land when started to be farmed more intensively. Since then grass has been ploughed up for arable crops and animals given cattle cake during the winter instead of hay. This has lead to a 97% decline in flowery meadows in the last 70 years.
Why are we now keen to restore and recreate meadows? They sustain a huge density and diversity of flora and fauna, much of which is specific to the type of geology pertaining to that area and is rare elsewhere. Up to 700 species of plant and 1.400 species of invertebrate can live in a large meadow. In MANT we are studying the conversion of roughly grazed grass fields into meadow and wood pasture in order to increase the biodiversity as effectively as possible. We are hugely grateful to members of East Keswick Wildlife Trust for their time and encouragement. https://ekwt.org.uk.
How to create a wildflower meadow
Even a small area dedicated to this form of land management can benefit the environment.
- Choose a sunny spot, cut the grass and create about 50% brown soil by scarifying.
- You will be seeking to grow mostly perennials rather than the annuals in the previous section.
- In the first year sow seeds of yellow rattle. It parasitises on grass and weakens the growth. Eye bright is also useful. Without this the grass will out-compete any flowers.
- You can find nurseries online if you search for “Native British Wildflowers for Sale”, but make sure, by asking directly, that the plants are grown in peat-free compost without neonicotinoids. Also they must be suitable for your locality.
- Start saving local wildflower seeds. Collect only the smallest amount necessary. Shake out each seed head into a paper bag immediately and label.
- In late summer you can try making some bare earth in your grass patch and sowing some seed there directly.
- Sow the rest of the seed into pots and cover with grit. Grow on for two years.
- When you are ready to plant out, choose a spot and slice off a square of turf. Turn it upside down, make a criss-cross cut, plant your seedling into this and firm the soil all around it.
- When the grass is as dry as possible and the flower seed heads are brown take the growth down in stages. On a large scale you can scythe or graze animals. On a small scale you could strim it. Disturb the area first to make sure there are no hidden amphibians. Rake it off and let it dry between cuts until you can do a final very short cut.
- Maintain the cycle annually. The flowers that succeed will change year by year.
www.bbc,co.uk/earth/story/20150702-why-meadows-are-worth-saving. BBC EARTH why wildflower meadows are so special
https://www.countryfile.com>Wildlife>Trees&Plants. Guide to hay meadows in the UK – Countryfile.com
https://ptes.org>wppn>history-wood-pasture-parkland. A History of Wood Pasture and Parkland – People’s Trust for Endangered Species