What are the benefits to wildlife of not mowing your lawn?

For those who enjoy a pristine lawn, the no-mow movement may feel a little radical. But if you like the idea of helping the wildlife in your garden and decreasing the use of pesticides – not to mention saving time – then setting your lawnmower aside and allowing nature to take its course could be transformational.

Illustrations: Dorien Brouwers
Words: Jade Beecroft

How does no-mow gardening work?

Put simply, no-mow gardening means leaving your lawn to grow unchecked for a while. This might be for a full season or a single month and involve a whole garden or plot, a section or even just the edges. Some no-mow gardeners cut strips across their gardens to create pathways while others devote an area specifically to wildlife.

Some like to plant wildflower seeds into the no-mow sections of their lawns, others simply wait to see what grows naturally. However you choose to do it, embracing this holistic approach could give your local biodiversity a real boost, helping insect, bird, butterfly and bee populations thrive.

What is No Mow May?

UK organisation Plantlife launched its No Mow May campaign to encourage people to embrace wilder gardening during the month of May – the height of the growing season. Felicity Harris, head of participation at Plantlife, says: ‘Each year, the trend towards wilder lawns is growing from the grassroots up. It’s not only plants and pollinators that benefit – gardeners do, too. Less mowing gives people more time to relax and reconnect with nature. Those hours previously spent mowing can be used building a wildlife pond, a bug hotel or a reptile refugium.’

In May 2021, no-mow gardeners who participated in Plantlife’s Every Flower Counts citizen-science survey reported more than 250 plant species, including wild strawberry, wild orchids and rare plants such as meadow saxifrage. They also counted over 465,000 flowers, including almost 250,000 daisies. Ian Dunn, Plantlife’s chief executive, says: ‘The results underline how embracing a little more wilderness in the garden can be a boon for plants, butterflies and bees.’

What are the first steps in no-mow gardening?

The RSPB suggests mowing less frequently or setting your lawnmower to a higher cut as good starting points, but to keep areas surrounding bird feeders or bird baths mown, to avoid long grass providing shelter for predators. It’s also a good idea to leave the same area of your garden or plot unmown each year to give wild plants the opportunity to go through their whole life cycles, seed and thrive.

In addition to supporting the month-long mowing amnesty of Plantlife’s No Mow May, the RSPB suggests leaving lawns unmown from late March or early April until late August or September, to mimic the traditional growing and cutting season of hay meadows. This gives wildlife and wildflowers the entire spring-summer season to make the most of it. If your garden adjoins others, it may be worth mentioning your plans to neighbours as a courtesy.

Looking out for your garden’s wildlife

Anna points out that when it comes to finally mowing your grass – perhaps at the end of the season – it’s important to take care. ‘If you use a strimmer, you need to consider the wildlife that’s likely to have made your meadow its home over the summer,’ she says. ‘First, walk the area carefully – try to minimise trampling the grass too much. Cut to no lower than 20cm first. This gives animals, such as hedgehogs, frogs and rodents, a chance to escape.’

If you like a neat garden during the spring and summer– perhaps as a play area for children – you might consider setting your lawnmower aside over winter instead. Anna adds: ‘This will provide crucial shelter to insects, as well as a space for many species, such as moths, butterflies and grasshoppers, to lay their eggs or to pupate. Bumblebees also like to make

their nest in the thatch of long grass.’

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