No Mow May is in full swing as gardeners, councils and landowners across the UK are letting their lawns, verges and grasslands grow freely to give nature a boost. It's not too late to take part – any break from your routine mowing will enable bees, butterflies and other wildlife to get a much-needed boost this spring. All you have to do is resist the urge to cut the lawn this month.
Campaign research has revealed that mowing your lawn less frequently can provide enough nectar sugar for ten times the amount of bees, butterflies, moths, beetles and other pollinators. Last year's results showed that gardeners who took part reported up to 250 species of plants, including wild garlic, wild strawberry, declining orchids and the rare meadow flower snakeshead fritillary, flowering within the grasses.
Lawns are often wastelands for insects and flowers, with all potential diversity kept under tight control by regular mowing and weed removal. But left to its own devices, those ordinary weeds can provide vital food. Dandelions are a particular superfood for bees and butterflies. Despite being outnumbered by daisies 85 to 1 on a typical 100m2 lawn, they produce 9% of the lawn's pollen and 37% of its nectar sugar.
What is No Mow May?
No Mow May is a national campaign to encourage people not to mow their lawns until the end of May in order to boost the flowers, and nectar, available to pollinating insects such as bees, butterflies and moths. At the end of the month, participants are invited to record the flowers that have grown in the grass with the Every Flower Counts survey.
This year's #NoMowMay is set to be bigger than ever, as numbers have been steadily increasing. Ian Dunn, CEO of Plantlife, said:
“These results demonstrate that our call to No Mow May has set seed and laid down deep roots. The results underline how embracing a little more wildness in our gardens can be a boon for plants, butterflies and bees. We are excited by the unfolding dawn of a new British lawn.”
Why shouldn't you cut the grass in May?
There's no doubt that providing food for pollinators is critical to their survival. We've lost 97% of our wildflower meadows in the past 70 years in the UK, and insects are in worrying decline with butterflies down by about 50% since 1976, and 13 species of bee now extinct. A recent study found that rural honey bees have to fly further to find food than their urban counterparts, which suggests that wild flowers are much less abundant than those grown in the gardens of more built-up areas. But why May?
Traditionally, May is the time when the soils are warm enough for grasses to really start shooting up. Most gardeners are keen to get the mower out and transform that scraggly patch of grass into a thriving lawn. In fact, Plantlife's 2019 survey revealed that most of us cut the grass every two weeks. But hold off from cutting it a little while longer, and you can give UK pollinators – and the birds and animals who eat them – a much-needed boost.
How to take part in No Mow May
All you have to do is:
- Simply leave your mower in the shed for No Mow May and watch the flowers fill your lawn. Register at the No Mow May website.
- From 23rd May to 31st May, choose a random square metre of your lawn and count the number of flowers in it. Upload the results to Plantlife's web page Every Flower Counts.
- You'll instantly receive a "Personal Nectar Score', which shows how much nectar is being produced by the flowers on your lawn and how many bees it can support.
In the long term, Plantlife advocates a tiered lawn approach, with different lengths of grass to enable short-growing flowers to flourish alongside longer ones. Oli Wilson, National Plant Monitoring Scheme modeler, noted:
“May is a crucial month for flowering plants that need to get a firm foothold but we are not advocating never mowing after May. Plantlife guidance across the year recommends a layered approach to the garden cut, where shorter grass is complemented by areas of longer grass. This two-tone approach boosts floral diversity and nectar and pollen production through the year.”
How to mow for wildlife all year roundA few simple changes can really help the insects in your patch. Here are three things you can do now:
• Cut once every four weeks Plantlife's survey last year found that those with the highest production of flowers and nectar sugar were the participants who mowed their lawns once every four weeks.
• Leave areas of your lawn uncut As well as the shorter-growing species such as daisies, white clover and bird's foot trefoil, many flowers that need to grow taller in order to flower. Ox-eye daisies, red clover and knapweed can flourish in corners of the garden that are left to grow – and they look lovely as well.
• Stop using weedkiller This may seem obvious, but weedkiller will kill the flowers growing in your lawn, as well as contaminating the soil around it. Some weedkillers can remain active in the soil for a year after application, and it is not yet fully known what the effect on insects and invertebrates is. If you can't bear the dandelions, take them out by hand.
Knapweed is a favourite food for butterflies./Credit: Getty
Who started No Mow May?
British conservation charity Plantlife started No Mow May in 2019.
Plantlife's mission is to save threatened wild flowers, fungi and plants. It owns nearly 4,500 acres of nature reserve across England, Scotland and Wales. HRH The Prince of Wales is Patron of the charity.
Tanya Jackson is the acting group digital editor of countryfile.com and discoverwildlife.com. Her parents had a pet shop when she was growing up, so she learnt very young how intelligent rats are and why you don’t stick your hands near the beak of a cockatoo. She loves camping, hiking and watching the red kites soar over the Wiltshire hills.