Amenity Grassland and Road Verges – Doing More with Less!

Your chance to catch up on an event recently hosted by the Partnership, on how we all can better manage our grass areas for biodiversity and reduced costs.

Grass – it covers the majority of our urban green spaces, as well as covering the road verges in and out of our cities and towns.

Most of us probably haven’t spent much time thinking about grass at all, apart from how often we need to cut our front lawns in the summer time!

However, when you do start to add it up, you quickly come to the realisation that close-mown grass covers a significant amount of our green areas.  It also requires a lot of management in terms of time, money and energy. (I’m sure anyone with a lawn at home will agree with this!)

Gardens… business grounds… parks and community green spaces… the sides of roads all across the North East…

What if we could turn some, if not most, of these close-mown grass areas into areas that support wildflowers and so in-turn support more biodiversity? Surely that would require a lot of work?

Well, no. It just requires a different approach!

The North East Scotland Biodiversity Partnership (NESBiP) hosted an event on the topic of grassland management on Tuesday 3rd December 2019, with attendees including staff from the three North East Counils and a variety of other council areas across Scotland, SEPA, SNH, the SRUC, a wide range of community groups and councillors.

The theme of the talks was how we can reduce the management costs of our grass areas, while improving biodiversity at the same time – a win-win.

Giles Laverack from Scotia Seeds provided insight on why it is important to use native wildflower seeds when we are sowing up new wildflower areas.  This is because when we use native seeds, and especially local provenance seeds, the wildflowers perform better and are of much greater benefit to our local wildlife – flowering at the right time of year and producing more pollen and nectar.

NESBiP then welcomed Dr. Phil Sterling from Butterfly Conservation to share his experiences from changing the management of grass areas from his time at Dorset County Council, where he was in charge of the whole of the council’s Countryside Service including the Country Parks, nature reserves and road verges. He and his team pioneered changes in the way the council’s green spaces are managed, changing ordinary grass areas into wildflower meadows to bring back wildlife into the places where people live and work.  The bonus was that he achieved these improvements for biodiversity, while making substantial savings in his budget at the same time!

So how did he do it?

Well this goes back to a very simple subject – what makes grass grow in the first place.  Water, sunlight, temperature and the fertility of the soil.  Now we can’t do anything about the amount of sunshine, heat and rain we get in Scotland, but we can change one thing – soil fertility.

If we are able to lower the soil fertility in our areas with close mown grass, then we stop the grass growing so quickly, which means we need to cut it less.

This also changes the types of grass that grow – instead of thick coarse grass types, we get much finer grasses and gaps in the soil which allow for wildflowers to come through.  These wildflowers provide homes and food for our dramatically declining pollinator species, such as bees, hoverflies, butterflies, flies and beetles.

By letting the grass grow long, before cutting and removing the cuttings, you are able to reduce the nutrients going back into the soil.  After doing this repeatedly in the growing seasons over a number of years, Dr Sterling’s approach converted standard grass areas into havens for wildlife.  He also managed to reduce the amount of money, time and energy spent on managing these areas.

NESBiP has been working this year to allow community groups across the North East to try out planting up and managing small wildflower areas – but we should be thinking bigger.  Let’s try and change the way we think about all of our grass areas, and start to manage them for our wildlife, while cutting our management costs at the same time!

A photo of a biodiverse road verge with a variety or low-growing wildflowers

2 years after cut and collect management on a road in Blandford © Phil Sterling

 

The full video (approximately 1hr 30mins long) of the main public talk, including questions afterwards,  is available below.  So why not put the kettle on and find somewhere comfortable to enjoy the full event experience!

 

As well as being embedded below, the video is available on Youtube.

 

There are three speakers as well as a Q+A session at the end of the event.

The speakers are as follows:

(00:00:00 – 00:06:20) Introduction

Alex Stuart – Local Biodiversity Coordinator for North East Scotland Biodiversity Partnership

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(00:06:30 – 00:19:35) Wild Origin Seed

Why local origin seed is important and how local it should be, as well as briefly introducing the idea of seed zones and the importance of trace-ability with wildflower seed.

Giles Laverack – Managing Director of Scotia Seeds

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(00:20:10 – 01:12:45) Amenity Grasslands and Road Verges – Doing More with Less!

Best practice examples and case studies (largely based on his experience from working with Dorset County Council) for reducing maintenance costs substantially while improving habitats for biodiversity, and changing the way we think about and manage our grass areas.

Dr. Phil Stirling – Butterfly Conservation’s ‘Building Sites for Butterflies’ Program Manager

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(01:13:20 – 1:33:33) Q & A Session

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Slides from NESBiP’s Introduction at the main public talk are available here.

 

Slides from Giles Laverack’s main public talk are available here.

 

Slides from Dr. Phil Sterling’s main public talk are available here.

picture of close mown grass

Close mown amenity grass, which supports very few flowers and insects.

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Alex Stuart

NESBiP