Wildlife-friendly lawns: the long and the short of it

no mow may wildlife garden
A three acre meadow can be home to 9 million flowers producing enough nectar to support ½ million bees every day. Image credit: Trevor Dines

What do you visualise when you hear the word lawn? Beautifully manicured stretches of Wimbledon-esque grass, scruffy homemade football pitches or that guilt-inducing rusty lawnmower at the back of the shed? One thing you probably don’t think is ‘insect paradise’. Surely insects prefer rich, verdant meadows full of cornflowers and bird’s-foot trefoil to the average suburban garden? The thing is, the difference between the meadow and the garden is just a matter of mowing. That’s why wildlife charity Plantlife are promoting #NoMowMay.

Why not mow? 

Oli Wilson, of the National Plant Monitoring Scheme, says, “May is a crucial month for flowering plants that need to get a firm foothold”. Allowing lawns to go unmown gives a wide variety of native wildflowers a chance to grow, providing vital food for pollinating insects. And pollinating insects are crucial for food production. We may look down on common flowers like the dandelions, daisies and clover that run riot on my lawn but to a bumblebee they’re like a trip to a high-end supermarket. In fact, just eight dandelion flowers might produce enough nectar sugar to meet an adult bumblebee’s baseline energy needs. Longer lawns can help humbler insects too, such as beetles, caterpillars and grasshoppers, which in turn benefits other creatures like birds, bats and hedgehogs. You’ll benefit too, as they feast on slugs and other pests.

Backyard jungle or wildlife garden?

So does this mean that we’ll need to take scythes to our lawns come the Autumn? Not at all. Experts recommend having a mixture of lawn lengths to benefit a variety of wildlife as well as making our gardens places we can enjoy all summer long. So you could leave a patch of lawn unmown until Autumn and enjoy watching flowers emerge out of nowhere. Or if you have a larger garden you could mow a meandering pathway through it for an enjoyable evening walk. Even just waiting a few extra weeks between mows will make all the difference to the wildlife in your garden.

Want to do more to help wildlife?

Worried that you won’t know what to do with all the time you’re saving by not mowing? Perhaps you could look into building a wildlife pond, a bug hotel or a reptile refugium. Other simple ways to help wildlife include planting insect-friendly plants, and avoiding pesticides, especially on flowering plants. And if you take part in Plantlife’s ‘Every Flower Counts’ citizen science survey, from 21-30 May 2022, you’ll be able to see just how much difference you’re making to biodiversity. Who knows what exotic species might show up? Perhaps it’s time to leave that lawnmower in the shed just a little longer.




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