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No Mow May - How to Help Notts Wildlife Whilst Doing Less Work

2 May 22 words: Holly Dance
photos: Holly Dance

East Leake Hedgehog Highways Founder and Adult Social Care Worker Holly Dance found that the best way to keep her garden in good shape was not to do very much at all. At the outset of No Mow May 2022, she tells us about how mowing less and gardening for nature can bring wildlife home.

Traditional English gardening has, since at least Victorian times, been notoriously obsessive about neat and tidiness, prioritising an orderly and luxurious look. But that’s not how nature likes it - nature loves a mess. To answer nature’s call, a campaign called No Mow May has been set up by UK-based charity Plantlife encouraging those with a garden, as well as local councils and businesses, to ditch the lawnmowers at this crucial time of the year and let our flora do its thing to support our insects and other wildlife. 

I did my final lawn cut for spring (and maybe summer, too) at our family home in East Leake, Nottinghamshire two weeks ago. When we moved here four years ago, it was just a lawn with a few daisies and dandelions. I spent the first year maintaining it until I left it unmown for ‘too long’. Then, because of how pretty the daisies looked, I left it a bit longer. Then came dog violets, plantain, Timothy grass, forget-me-not, herb Robert, primroses, catsear, viola, cowslip, buttercup, scabiosa, wood avens, fox and cubs (the plant), red and white clover and selfheal - and they’re just the ones I remember or know the names of. Best of all, these amazing plants were all already there, lying in wait for their chance to flourish, feed and reseed. 

It really got to me thinking: I was destroying all this food and habitat for the tiny creatures who make our lives possible. So I’ve now left sizeable borders and areas to maintain themselves, habitats left untouched. This means that the real gardeners can get to work: the frogs to eat the slugs, the hedgehogs to eat the beetles, the worms to eat the fallen leaves, the bees to pollinate the plants, lady birds to eat the aphids. Everything creates the perfect balance for one and other to survive when we give them space.

With those flowers came all kinds of butterflies and moths, bees and hoverflies, dragonflies and ladybirds. Just a few of the species of butterflies, bees and moths I noted last year are peacock, small tortoiseshell, holly blue, speckled wood, ringlet, gatekeeper, large/small whites, brimstone, small magpie, angle shades, comma, red admiral, carpet moths, hawk moths, small skipper, red mason bee, white and red tail bee. Then thanks to those miniature flying wonders we began to find frogs, toads, and newts. Eventually came the raptors, the owls and hawks; night time visitors include hedgehogs and bats, and although I’ve not seen them, I hear owls too.

It also happens to be Hedgehog awareness week right now, from Sunday 1 May - Saturday 7 May. Hedgehogs are in a challenging spot too, and The State of Britain's Hedgehogs report found numbers are down in rural areas by between 30% and 75% since 2000. The situation is likely even worse in urban areas, but wildlife friendly gardening can also help these spiky, ridiculously cute critters, and there are great local initiatives - like Beeston-based charity Hedgepigs - who are working on making our gardens a more welcoming environment for them. 

By making a little less effort, all these creatures can now thrive

I have still got what I call my ‘formal’ lawn, but I leave any wildflowers that spring up there to flourish and I leave the mowing until when they’ve seeded. This isn’t limited to May either, I often leave it much later, to June/July, then most wildflowers and grasses have served their vital purpose to the insects. When I do mow, I first walk through checking for frogs and toads. 

Obviously any mowing will harm some wildlife, but by managing our gardens mindfully - a bit like managing forests via ancient traditions like coppicing - we can actually boost wildlife overall by creating more varied and useful habitats. It’s about striking the right balance between getting our benefit, or you might say yield, out of it, whilst leaving plenty of room for the wild things. And most of the time all I have to do is sit out listening, looking and learning all these things, all because I just left the lawn to grow. 

Without all the tiny creatures that live in the lawn none of this wildlife would visit and stay here. By making a little less effort, all these creatures can thrive, thanks - in small part - to my garden.

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