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The Kindest Cut

07 August 2012 | Posted in Author , Kevin Lerwill , Plants

Author Kevin Lerwill

cinnabar moth caterpillars on ragwort / Alan Price
cinnabar moth caterpillars on ragwort / Alan Price

Amidst all the doom and gloom surrounding the global economic situation, it is interesting to notice how cutbacks to local authority spending in this country are having some unexpected benefits for our wildlife. Earlier this Spring, councils across the country were forced to delay their annual mowing regimes due to weeks of seemingly endless rain, which meant it was harder for their machines to cut the grass effectively and in some cases, tractor mowers were getting themselves seriously bogged down in the mud where the ground was heavily saturated.

When they did eventually resume their regime, it seemed to be on a reduced scale compared to previous years and after a few weeks, with fewer grass cuttings on the ground to “fertilise” the soil, the less visible roadside verges and countryside lanes began to show signs of nature “re-claiming” these valuable green spaces again. Flowers such as cuckooflower gave way to various buttercups and daisies, followed by mallows, vetches, clovers, knapweed, thistles, nettles, dandelions, ragwort, bedstraws, cowslips, docks, hedge-parsley (and other members of the carrot family) amongst many others (yes, even nettles) and the numerous grasses, providing a welcome source of food and shelter for tens of thousands of insects.

Some of these plants are vital for the survival of some insects…ragwort for example, despite much negative publicity, is one of only two food plants for the Cinnabar Moth caterpillar, a striking yellow and black grub that becomes a beautiful red and black day-flying moth in its adult form. Un-mown strips of grassland also provide important natural “corridors” which allow invertebrates, small mammals and reptiles to migrate safely from one area to another, ensuring their continued survival across a larger area and this of course also means more food for birds of all kinds.

At first, I thought that Councils were perhaps beginning to understand the importance of shelter strips and were attempting to lead by example by leaving certain areas, (encouraged perhaps by small scale experiments on a number of local roundabouts). Some Councils may even have been “inspired” by Sarah Raven’s recent series on the BBC, but more likely, they have reduced their mowing budgets and are leaving the less public areas, (away from town centres), for as long as possible…or in other words, until complaints from the public become too persistent for them to ignore!

With a bit of luck though, complaints will be few and far between as people get used to the idea of un-mown wild flowers and accept the value of these so-called weeds. Councils and Britain in Bloom judges also need to be more tolerant of these un-mown areas and they should be encouraged by us to continue with this approach. If they do, the majority of people commuting between home and work each day will, like me, be allowed to enjoy and savour a natural display that we are normally denied each summer and our wildlife will (at last) be allowed to flourish in more and more areas.


  • 08 Aug 2012 13:09:42

    It is good to see the wild verges but as we have horses it is a bit of a nightmare in their fields. I try to keep the herbs, thistles and nettles but things which are harmful for the horses have to go. We are hoping to add more herbs so the horses can have access to self-medicate.
    Our council does leave areas wild which is good for the butterflies etc.

  • kim Richards:

    08 Aug 2012 21:05:22

    Couldn’t agree more, It has been wonderful to see the verges and edges of urban green space with so much life on them this year. Even more scarce plants and orchids have flourished. I also thought the message was getting through and then cynicism kicked in and I realised it was more to do with man power than flower power. Still, the results show how with some efforts to get the public and therefore local authorities on side we can use this unexpected biodiverse by-product to bring about more lasting change. Roadside reserve ramble anyone?

  • Kevin Lerwill:

    17 Aug 2012 15:26:18

    Hi Gill,

    Thanks for the feedback…You sound like a responsible Horse owner, but if you are local to Crawley and you would like more advice on good practice Horse pasture management, please let me know and I can pass on your name to our Land Owner Advisor, who would be happy to discuss with you other possible ways that you might be able to improve it for wildlife (and Horses of course).

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