Unimproved grasslands are those whose productivity has not been improved for agriculture. These are semi-natural habitats because they would quickly become scrub or woodland if mowing and grazing stopped. Unimproved grasslands can support a large number of species. They may have as many as 40 flowering plants in one square meter.
Since World War II, 97 percent of grassland habitats that were not improved have disappeared from the UK. The loss of pollinating insect species is a result of this. One-third of species have shrunk in distribution since 1980.
Left: Transylvania’s grassland, where agriculture has not improved much. Right – Potwell Dykes in Nottinghamshire, how the UK’s lost pastureland might have looked. Adam Bates
Read more: Insects: species that prefer crops prosper while majority decline.
If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, your lawn can be thought of as a small patch of artificial grassland, which will usually have only a few species of turf grass. Most suburbs and villages still have around a quarter to a third of their area covered by grass.
Lawns, despite their appearance, are not very interesting and provide little shelter for insects and other small animals. Regular mowing prevents plants from producing seeds and flowers, which is another reason why lawns that are well-maintained look so barren.
The lawn is maintained traditionally. Bugs can’t exploit the few plant species or structures. Spiders, for example, have no place to anchor their webs. Adam Bates
By changing the way they are managed, lawns can become important wildlife habitats. It’s an idea that is gaining popularity – campaigns like “say no to the mow” have made “unkempt” gardens more socially acceptable. There are four steps that anyone who wants to create a wildlife garden in their yard should follow.
- Cut higher
It’s easy to start. You can increase the variety of the lawn by raising the blade height to the highest setting, usually 4 cm above the ground.
- Include mowing the gaps.
Fox-and-cubs ( Hieracium ausrantiacum) feed the leafcutter bees. Jorg Hempel/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA
You can give plants more time to bloom and pollinators a source of food by mowing less frequently. In spring, allowing gaps between mowing will allow species such as cowslip time to flower. This plant has been declining in the UK and is a source of food for pollinators like the Duke Of Burgundy.
The summer gaps allow for the flowering of species such as cat’s ears, fox, and cubs. These species are an important food source for leafcutter flies. It’s not an exact science to determine how long you should wait before mowing your lawn. Instead, look at whether the plants have flowered.
- No herbicides or fertilisers
“Weed & Feeds” is a mix of herbicide (used to kill nongrass species we would normally consider weeds) and fertilizer to add nutrients to the soil. Herbicides can reduce biodiversity because they kill other species. But you may be surprised to find out that fertilizers also harm biodiversity.
In gardening and farming, the more fertile the soil, the better. This will increase productivity. More grass, greener lawns, and bigger flowers are all part of the equation. Only the targeted species will benefit from the selective actions taken by the farmer or gardener to promote the prized crop or rose.
If you don’t use this selectiveness, the fertilizer in your lawn will only benefit one or two turf types that can best absorb nutrients and outcompete others. More fertility results in fewer species of plants, despite their lusher green color.
- Remove the clippings
By removing the grass clippings from your lawn after mowing, you can also lower the fertility of the turf and prevent it from being dominated by a single or two competing turf species. The composting of grass clippings slowly removes nutrients from the soil and lowers fertility with every cut.
There are many other ways to improve the value of your grass for wildlife. By leaving small patches of lawn uncut, such as stripes at the side or patches in corners, you can encourage the formation of small wildflower meadows. By cutting them at the end of summer, you can prevent them from becoming a rank grassland.
Spreading locally-sourced wildflower seeds on your lawn can add wildlife value. Ask permission before taking any seeds.
Adam Bates, a young actor from the film “Adam Bates,” has a suburban wildflower lawn that is a great example of a diverse and beautiful landscape. Adam Bates
Enjoying wildflowers on your lawn
Wildflower lawns have many other benefits. They can help to reduce global warming. According to some studies, lawns can be carbon dioxide sources due to the energy required to run the mowers and produce “weed and feeds”. Reduce the frequency of mowing, avoid using “weed and feeds”, and use a manual mower to transform your lawn into a carbon sink.
The taller the vegetation, the more it will shade the ground and reduce the need for sprinklers or hosepipes. You will have less work and more time to spend watching bees gather nectar and pollen on your wildflower lawn.
To my eye, wildflower lawns, with their spikes of colorful flowers and accompanying bees, are much prettier than a stripy carpet of grass. The most boring part of any grassland is the grass, especially when it’s not in bloom. The species that are traditionally regarded as “weeds”, however, are much more interesting.