Get off the grass and let the wildflowers and the bees flourish, council told

With the natural world left to do its thing over the course of lockdown, the results have often been wild, beautiful and full of life.
Campaigners are calling on a Scottish council to stop cutting the grass and let wildflowers and bees thrive. PIC: Emphyrio.Campaigners are calling on a Scottish council to stop cutting the grass and let wildflowers and bees thrive. PIC: Emphyrio.
Campaigners are calling on a Scottish council to stop cutting the grass and let wildflowers and bees thrive. PIC: Emphyrio.

Now a presenter on BBC Springwatch has backed a campaign to get one Scottish council to leave nature to take its course, let the wild flowers and support the lives of bees and other pollinators.

Naturalist Iolo Williams said he supported a call to Stirling Council to change its approach to grass cutting with two petitions now asking the local authority to back down on trimming back verges and other green spaces on a regular basis.

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Williams said: "I fully support these campaigns to bring more wildflowers to Stirling and join them in calling on Stirling Council to better manage greenspaces to support nature, adopt more wildlife-friendly mowing practices in the parks and greenspaces.”

Both petitions ask Stirling Council to adopt a range of policies which will help wildflowers flourish and offer bees and other pollinators an important source of nectar on which they depend for survival.

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Leigh Biagi, founder of the On the Verge campaign, said a a rich diversity of wildflowers had emerged throughout the city as the council mowers lay dormant over the course of the pandemic.

She said: "Normally these spring wildflowers wouldn’t have the chance to bloom as grass cutting starts before their flowering period, but this year, as a result of lockdown, they have been left alone to do what they do best; feed the bees, and provide a beautiful display to cheer us all up in the process.

"We all know the problems faced by our pollinator populations because of pesticide usage, disease and climate change. One of the biggest factors is large-scale agricultural production in the countryside. Areas which would normally have offered lots of nectar-rich flowers and good habitat for pollinators now offer little and research shows that bees are preferring towns and cities attracted by our gardens; but our gardens may not be enough.

"If bees are clever enough to adapt to changing circumstances, then shouldn’t we be clever enough to help them by making the green spaces in our towns a haven for beleaguered bees?”

Josine added: “I am passionate about nature and wildlife and now that the road verges haven't been cut for several weeks, you can see flowers emerging and grasses growing. That's why I would like to ask Stirling Council to keep the road verges uncut or at least cut fewer times. The more people agree, the more likely Stirling Council will change their policy on this.”

Studies show that around 40% of insect species are now facing extinction over the next few decades and around 41% of all insect species have seen declines over just the last 10 years. Without insects, and the ecoservices they provide, we would be in big trouble. It is estimated that a third of the food we eat is pollinated by insects; Scotland’s famous soft fruit production would be unsustainable without our hardworking pollinators.

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On the Verge is asking the council to cut grass later, cut it less and time the cuts carefully.

The campaign argues that delaying the first cut of the season would allow the spring flowers to bloom and feed hungry bees emerging from hibernation. It says cuckoo flower, buttercups, daisies, dandelions, speedwell and wild violets are just a few of the early flowering species that offer a lifeline to a whole range of insects, not just to bees.

The volunteer-led, community organisation is also calling on the council to adopt a cut-and-collect method of management in which grass clippings are collected rather than left to rot down.

Ms Biagi said: “When the clippings are collected the vigour of the grass diminishes and the flowers have a chance to thrive. If an uncut area gets lots of complaints it is usually the long grass that makes it look a mess; allowing the flowers to dominate can create a natural meadow effect which, although never neat and tidy, can look beautiful and more importantly be buzzing with a whole range of pollinators.

A second petition calling on the counil to manage grass verges for biodiversity has been launched by Josine Atsma, owner of Stirling Health Food Store with the campaign also winning the backing of Friends of the Earth.

Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett said: “Local councils have a vital part to play in helping the UK’s under-threat bee populations. Policies, such as allowing grass to grow on roadside verges and in certain areas in parks, will help bees, save cash-strapped councils money, and are supported by the public too.”

Eminent bumblebee expert and author Professor Dave Goulson added: Bees and other insects are in trouble and need our help," he commented. "Stirling Council could really make a difference if they started managing green spaces to encourage flowers for insects. Imagine how wonderful it would be if the city’s parks, road verges and roundabouts were all filled with wildflowers, buzzing with bees and alive with butterflies?

"Adopting these actions will save money, reduce CO2 emissions, protect food security, support pollinator populations, and protect valuable biodiversity. It’s a win/win for us all."

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