No Mow May pilot project is announced

Published: Monday, 1st May 2023

A pilot project designed to promote and protect pollinators in Birmingham is set to be overseen by the council this month.

Four of the city’s 69 wards have been selected to trial the concept of the No Mow May campaign.

Only essential grass cutting (such as near road junctions and highways) will take place during the 31-day period in the Acocks Green, Bromford and Hodge Hill, Moseley and North Edgbaston wards.

The four wards were selected in consultation with scrutiny committee councillors and the findings will be analysed to help future plans for the city's ecology.

Cllr Majid Mahmood, Cabinet Member for Environment, said: “It is really important we look at things that could help make our city a greener and healthier place for our people and wildlife.

“Figures nationally show that since the 1970s nearly 97 per cent of flower rich meadows, and with them vital food sources needed by pollinators, have disappeared.

“Here in Birmingham alone, we have around 4,500,000 square metres of highways grass verges that are mown regularly throughout the growing season.

“These can range from narrow strips along the edge of the footway to broad areas of central reservation.

“Some of these areas have many wildflowers in early spring providing early nectar for pollinating insects but mowing in May can remove the ability of these plants to seed and allow them to spread.

“As part of our City of Nature plan and tying in with our Local Nature Recovery Network, we are aiming to increase the number of flowering verges in the city.

“By beginning to change the mowing regimes through this pilot, we can look to make a start - but there has to be a recognition that all verges are not the same.

“Some will have fine grasses and a range of flowering plants already to burst into bloom, while others may have only course grass and few, if any, flowers.

“Where this is the case, it will take changes in management over several years or a total change by re-seeding to make them diverse.”

During the council's No May project, officers will be monitoring what actually flowers. This will inform where mowing can be relaxed in future, where there is a need make changes or where mowing needs to continue.

Cllr Mahmood added: “A healthy lawn or verge with some long grass and wildflowers not only benefits wildlife but can tackle pollution, slow surface water flows, and reduce flooding - it can even lock away carbon below ground.

“But this doesn't mean we should stop mowing altogether. Many of our wildflowers have evolved over time alongside the animals that would normally eat them.

“They often grow best in areas of shorter grass and would be lost if the grasses around them were left to grow unchecked for the rest of the year.

“The cutting of some wildflowers actually mimics being eaten and encourages them to repeat flower – in doing so it extends the flowering time and the availability of nectar and pollen for insects.

“And for some wildflowers though, that flower later in the summer, mowing is needed early in the year, including through May, and they then need to be left uncut until August or September to allow them to flower and set seed.

“Generally, our wildflowers thrive on soils with poor nutrients, so cutting and removing the grass is essential to keep the soil fertility down.

“The very best grass habitats for insects will contain not only the wildflowers but also a range of grass lengths with anything from bare soil through to tall grass, so we offer the widest opportunities to as many species as possible.

“So, some cutting is a good way to provide that range of habitats.

“This pilot project is essential if we are to build up the knowledge base that enables us to deliver the quickest positive results in the years that follow - and I am looking forward to receiving our findings.”

And during No Mow May, citizens of Birmingham are also being asked to help build a picture of where wildflowers exist.

The call has been made by the City of Nature Alliance – so, if you see or know of a grass verge that already has a range of wildflowers on it, please fill out their short survey form.

Background notes

In parallel, efforts to phase out the use of pesticides to treat weeds in the city are progressing, in line with the response issued to a petition submitted last year on the topic to the council.

This year officers are carrying out surveys, with a view to creating a plan to phase out glyphosate by the end of the year, using up stocks and moving to a new regime next season. However, for invasive weeds, there will still be a need to use glyphosate in a very controlled way.

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