The long term benefits of No Mow May
For many, the presence of insects in our gardens, parks and streets are thought of as an an irritation but in recent years, due to excessive use of pesticides, increasing urbanisation, change in land use, paved driveways and pristine gardens, and light pollution, the number of insects has significantly declined, with many reports reporting significant decline in formerly abundant insects.
Insects might appear insignificant yet they form the most diverse range of organisms with an estimates80% of all species falling into their category.
Insects are widely understudied so number are always underestimated, yet, since 1990 one extensive study estimated that their number have reduced by 25% although some feel this number is significantly underestimated. The decline varies from region to region with accelerating declines in Europe “shocking scientists”.
Over-manicured grass looks neat, but has a low ecological value benefiting fewer species. Back in 1962, Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, focusing on the destruction created by pesticides.
"These sprays, dusts, and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests, and… have the power to kill every insect, the 'good' and the 'bad,' to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film, and to linger on in soil-all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects.”
Carson importantly highlighted that humans were not central but rather interconnected to the rest of the living world. Due to this, in the same way that humans can negatively impact biodiversity through the use of pesticides, we can also add value.
So, what’s so great about insects?
As The Royal Park’s Mission Invertebrates puts it, “they are recyclers, pollinators, pest-controllers, sources of food and the cornerstone of biodiversity” they also maintain soil structure and are the foundation of the food web.
Their decline is therefore not only a problem for them, but with everything being linked, it will results in a decline to birds, amphibians, plants whilst also having a significant impact on humans.
Because of this, PlantLife introduced No Mow May as a way of providing some respite to wildlife to help them to reproduce and thrive without the threat of their habitat being destroyed. Of course, this has varied benefits such as allowing plants, including weeds to grow, reproduce and provide food for birds.
Allowing plants to flower can create enough nectar for ten times more bees and other pollinators and diversity of plants provides great benefits as it in turn provides a greater diversity of insects.
The idea was aimed at homeowners, yet councils across London took part, understanding the benefits towards biodiversity and working towards mitigating severe impacts of the climate emergency.
The impacts of this have been having a dramatic effect. In a recent scientific article mentions growing interest in enhancing road verges for nature and the environment.
Road verges cover 1.2% of land in Great Britain, of which 27.5% are short, frequently mown grassland. The rest includes 40.9% of regular grassland and10.7% is scrub.
This area of land which is so easily overlooked, provides a huge opportunity for nature and other research has shown reducing mowing to once or twice a year provides more flowers for pollinators, allows plants to set seed and creates habitats for greater diversity.
With so much of land across the UK having been lost to farming and urbanisation and almost sterile, this opportunity to utilise these extensive strips of land to put back what has been lost.
The benefits are wider ranging by reducing council costs and also provides a more attractive and pleasant space for humans. Having greater diversity will also provide reduced run off during heavy rain, secure areas for small mammals encouraging rarer less common urban species such as bank voles, field voles and wood mice. With car use in London constantly increasing, wild verges can help a small amount by having a deeper root system enabling it to capture carbon.
So here's hoping that No Mow May doesn't just become a regular thing, but is something that becomes the norm all year round, as it's tough to argue against greater diversity.
A few examples of Councils who have taken part