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How to make your lawn wildlife friendly all year round – tips from an ecologist

Writer : Gareth Griffith, Professor of Fungal Ecology, Aberystwyth College

Alongside the worrying present fad for plastic grass, a rising variety of individuals are selecting to let their lawns develop wild to be able to encourage a extra various vary of vegetation and bugs to dwell in them.

You might not be satisfied of the great thing about a wild and unruly backyard, however there’s a candy spot to be discovered between a rewilded jungle and a sterile inexperienced desert which not solely appears good however gives a haven for wildlife. That is particularly vital within the UK, the place 97% of semi-natural grassland has been destroyed during the last 80 years.

I’m an ecologist specialised within the research of this type of habitat, and I wish to make it easier to get essentially the most out of it. One easy compromise you can also make is to place off if you first get the garden mower out every year. A marketing campaign by conservation charity Plantlife referred to as #NoMowMay asks folks with lawns to carry off the primary reduce till June, which permits grasses and herbs time to flower and set seed.

However if you wish to preserve a wildlife-friendly garden all year long, with out letting your backyard change into fully overgrown, right here’s some recommendation for what else you are able to do.

To discover a completely happy medium, some mowing could also be mandatory. This halts the ecological processes which might in any other case rework a grass garden right into a woodland over time. By various the peak at which you mow completely different areas of your garden and the way typically you do it (simulating the impact of various herbivores grazing within the wild), you possibly can create a mixture of situations which profit a wide range of species.

Areas reduce quick will favour daisies, which flower in profusion and provide a nectar buffet to bees and butterflies. Unkempt areas left uncut for a yr go well with a greater diversity of flowers, tempting a various forged of bugs and different creatures into your backyard.

A hoverfly inspects a yellow dandelion in tall garden grass.
Flowers within the lengthy grass have attracted a white-footed hoverfly.
Nick Upton/Alamy Inventory Photograph

In experiments on his personal backyard in Kent, Charles Darwin recorded that refraining from mowing turf for too lengthy resulted in fewer species general, as a result of:

the extra vigorous vegetation steadily kill the much less vigorous … thus out of 20 species rising on just a little plot of turf (three toes by 4) 9 species perished from the opposite species being allowed to develop up freely.

One other key factor to consider is the extent of vitamins the garden receives. Even in case you have by no means succumbed to the garden feed merchandise closely promoted in most backyard centres, your garden will get a enough dose of fertiliser from reactive nitrogen carried on the wind.

The aim of mowing in a pure grassland must be to imitate grazing by animals. And to do this, you need to take away the clippings in any other case the vitamins they carry will soak again into the soil.

Fungi and micro organism decompose useless plant materials and return these vitamins to vegetation in a garden by networks of mycorrhizal fungi within the soil. Common mows which dump the cuttings and overload the soil with vitamins drive a stick by the spokes of this cycle by devaluing the forex of the nitrogen and phosphorus fungi ship. Clumps of reduce grass may also smother small seedlings.

At unnaturally excessive soil nutrient ranges (widespread in lawns mown and topped with the clippings recurrently), the vegetation is dominated by a small variety of fast-growing, weedy species. As Darwin discovered, this prevents a wealthy neighborhood of wildflowers from taking form. Soil with low nutrient ranges favours not solely extra species, but additionally wholesome soil meals webs.

On the Rothamsted Park Grass experiment in Hertfordshire, scientists have studied the results of annual haycutting since 1860, making it the oldest discipline experiment on the planet. When fertiliser was evenly utilized to some plots, it diminished the variety of plant species from 40 to fewer than 5.

A blue rake on a wooden stick collects grass cuttings in a pile.
Grass cuttings inundate soils with extra vitamins than a various neighborhood of vegetation wants.
Ekaterina Pankina/Shutterstock

Autumn fruiting

You additionally wish to take into account the time of yr. Mow sparingly and depart grass lengthy in summer time to create various plant and bug communities within the warmest months. A garden left uncut till late July, as in a standard hay meadow, will favour the best number of flowers. However reduce it quick in autumn to foster situations for mushrooms fruiting because the yr winds down.

Soil organisms and their hidden lives are badly uncared for in nature conservation. Among the many most ignored are grassland macrofungi, so named as a result of they’re massive sufficient to be seen to the bare eye. My favourites are the brightly colored waxcaps. These movie stars of the fungal world are restricted to undisturbed grasslands the place soil nutrient concentrations are low.

The British Isles is a worldwide hotspot for these fungi, however they’re threatened by habitat loss. 11 species discovered within the UK have been assessed by worldwide consultants as weak – the identical extinction threat confronted by the panda and snow leopard.

Three pink mushrooms with split edges in grass.
Pink ballerina mushrooms in an Aberystwyth backyard. This species is taken into account globally weak by the Worldwide Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Gareth Griffith, Writer offered

A research by my analysis group confirmed that waxcaps want the turf to be quick (8cm tall at most) within the autumn, however that their most prolific fruiting occurred when the grass was left uncut till mid-July. Waxcaps develop slowly and are long-lived, however with late cuts and the removing of clippings to decrease soil nutrient ranges, it’s possible that the primary waxcaps will return inside a decade.

To sum up, delay mowing till midsummer, preserve your garden freed from clippings and depart patches extra unkempt for longer to please butterflies and bees. However give it common trims from August onwards to encourage globally uncommon mushrooms. You’ll then see that grasslands are various and dynamic habitats simply ready to be unleashed.


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