Southwark cuts mowing to grow wildflowers and encourage bees

12 July 2021

Southwark Council has reduced routine grass cutting by 20 per cent across many of its parks and open spaces. The inner London borough is the latest authority to join a citywide shift to naturalised grasslands and relaxed mowing.

Park users are beginning to notice that the grass has been left to grow under trees and around the edges of Southwark’s parks.

Will Walpole, Southwark Parks Manager, said: “People are emailing and asking why we’ve not cut the grass, some are not best pleased. However, I explain that leaving areas of grass to grow is proven to encourage wildflower growth, which brings more butterflies, bees and birds and can result in an explosion of wildlife and nature. Most people agree that this is a good thing.”

The idea first came up when the council asked officers to think about new ways to help the organisation reduce its carbon footprint. Cutting less grass reduces fuel use, emissions and wear and tear on parks and the natural environment.

A move away from the Victorian model of closely cropped open parkland is gaining momentum. Advocates, such as celebrity gardener Monty Don, are talking about the benefits of leaving domestic lawns to grow as well. Southwark Council introduced comprehensive grass cutting reductions during this year’s No Mow May, a movement that has been gathering support since 2019.

However, Southwark is an inner city London borough and the council recognises that its parks serve as gardens, football pitches and picnic spots, as well performing many more functions, for the hundreds of thousands of people who visit them.

This means that Southwark Council is being careful to leave space for people to enjoy its parks. It is creating a balance between park users needs and doing what it can to create more space for wildlife and nature to blossom.

Jon Best, Southwark’s Ecology Officer, said: “If you look closely at the unmown areas, you will already see plenty of wildflowers pushing through. I’ve spotted wild carrot, meadow cranesbill and meadow buttercup flowering. However, rarer wildflowers like nutrient poor soil best. So we aim to be cutting the new meadowland at the height of its summer bloom. Removing these cuttings will help to reduce the nitrogen in the soil and improve the meadows for future wildflower diversity.”

Southwark’s parks are not descending into chaos, as longer grass is carefully edged, and some areas have pathways cut through them, so that people can see a clear boundary.

Mowing the grass in the spring and tidying up long grass is so engrained in most gardeners, that it has been quite a challenging shift for some of Southwark’s parks team. However, there is never a shortage of work for them to getting along with instead!

Cllr Catherine Rose, Cabinet Member for Transport, Parks and Sport, said: “Most of us have early memories of local parks and a connection to how they have looked during our lifetime. We can also remember enjoying playgrounds, learning to ride a bike, walking the dog, family picnics and many more activities in these much-loved open spaces.

“Southwark has a proud heritage in park design, tree protection, horticulture and bio-diversity, extending across the past two centuries. Rewilding is an evolutionary part of the development of our parks for the 21st Century. It responds to the real need to better protect and increase wildlife and nature. Done well and balanced with the many other roles our parks play, rewilding can be a visual and bio-diverse feast.  We are custodians for generations to come. Far from letting our parks go, we’re simply letting them grow.”

Page last updated: 12 July 2021

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