Simple changes in mowing Britain’s lawns can result in enough nectar for ten times more bees and other pollinators, a new Plantlife survey has found.
All lawn flowers in Plantlife’s Every Flower Counts survey – undertaken by citizen scientists across the UK who took part in last year’s #NoMowMay which urged them to “leave their mower in the shed and let the flowers grow” – combined produced a colossal 23kg of nectar sugar per day, enough to support 2.1 million – or around 60,000 hives – of honeybees.
Over 200 species were found flowering on lawns including rarities such as meadow saxifrage, knotted clover and eyebright. The top three most abundant lawn flowers being daisy, white clover and selfheal. Over half a million flowers were counted, including 191,200 daisies.
Plantlife asked participants how often they mowed their lawns and those who had left their lawns unmown for #NoMowMay. The highest production of flowers and nectar were on lawns cut every four weeks, giving ‘short-grass’ plants like daisies and white clover a chance to flower in profusion, boosting nectar production tenfold.
Every Flower Counts survey also found that those who had left their grass unmowned for longer than four weeks had a more diverse range of flowers, with other nectar-rich plants like oxeye daisy, field scabious and knapweed increasing the range of nectar sources for different pollinators and extending nectar availability into late summer.
It also revealed that 80% of lawns supported the equivalent of around 400 bees a day from the nectar sugar produced by flowers such as dandelion, white clover and selfheal. But 20% of lawns (dubbed “superlawns”) were found to be supporting 10 times as many – up to 4,000 bees a day.
Dr Trevor Dines, Plantlife’s Botanical Specialist, said: “The sheer quantity of flowers and nectar production on lawns mown once a month can be astonishing. We’ve discovered that plants like daisy, white clover and bird’s-foot trefoil are superbly adapted to growing in shorter swards. These short-grass, ‘mower-ducking’ plants stay low down with stems well out of the way of the mower blades, but continually produce large numbers of flowers every few weeks. If these flowers are cut off by mowing, it just stimulates the plants to produce yet more flowers, boosting nectar production.
“In contrast, tall-grass species like oxeye daisy, red clover, field scabious and knapweed grow upright and take longer to reach flowering size. They can’t cope with being cut off regularly, so only bloom in grass that’s not been mown for several months or more. Our results show these unmown long-grass areas are home to a greater range of wild flower species, complimenting the narrower range found in short-grass areas.”
Plantlife’s findings pave the way for new guidelines on how to manage lawns for wildlife. The conservation charity is now advising to keep two lengths of grass in any sized garden, leaving some patches completely unmown to let taller flowers come into bloom. For the rest of the lawn, Plantlife suggest keeping the grass shorter by mowing once every month to a height of 1 or 2 inches.
For flowers, bees and butterflies there is one lawn ‘haircut’ that really suits: the mohican. Most should be given a monthly cut to boost short sward plants but there should also ideally be an area set aside for longer grass where floral diversity abounds, according to Plantlife.
Meanwhile, anyone wanting to take part in #NoMowMay and to help record data for this year’s Every Flower Counts survey, taking place between 23-31 May 2020, should visit Plantlife’s website for more information.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com