Let it Grow!

Gemma Bodé

Help wildlife in your garden by letting your lawn grow into a mini meadow.

As the lockdown continues, it’s not just my hair that’s starting to look scruffy: the lawn is too.

Buying petrol for the mower doesn’t seem to be an acceptable excuse for leaving home, so it’s only going to get worse. Or should that be better? For wildlife, probably…definitely.

The perfect, mown, lawn has been described as a green desert. Ours has never been like that, but letting it grow for an extra few weeks is definitely going to increase its wildlife value.

Flowers appear amazingly quickly: the plants must be there all the time, but they don’t usually get a chance to flower.

Just a quick, non-expert, look finds Daisies, Violets, Bugle, Forget-me-not, Ladies Smock, two different Buttercups, (non-giant) Hogweed and, of course, Dandelions.

Those will all be offering nectar and pollen to a wide range of insects: not just the obvious butterflies and bees, but hoverflies and many more. Soon their uncut leaves will be providing food for caterpillars, too.

Grass itself is a foodplant for caterpillars of Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper and Speckled Wood butterflies, and it will be interesting to see if we can attract the Large and Small Skippers that were here a few years ago.

With more than 500 species of moth in Gwent, all of their caterpillars need something to eat, so our lawn – now getting more like a meadow – should be tempting some of those, too.

Longer vegetation isn’t just something to eat, of course. For many groups of insects it provides a place to shelter or, in the case of web-spinning spiders, build.

Other spiders and beetles are already hunting though the mini-forest; Ladybirds are climbing up the stems in search of Aphids. For slugs and snails the longer grass provides both food and shelter from the hot sun that would dry them out in the open.

Below ground, leaves that die naturally, rather than being swept up by the mower, provide food for fungi and worms. While it takes many years for the full range of grassland fungi to arrive, we’ve already seen some mushrooms we don’t recognise. Worms pull dead vegetation down into the ground, where it can enrich the soil; their tunnels repair the soil structure and bring air close to the roots of plants that need it.

And where there are beetles, slugs, snails and worms there may also be frogs (especially if you have a pond nearby), Hedgehogs and Slow-worms, all of which feed on them.

Slow-worms are neither worms nor snakes, but a kind of lizard with no legs. They are completely harmless, unless you are a slug, in which case they are a fierce predator to be avoided. Despite being relatively common, we know surprisingly little about them, as they spend much of their time underground. We do know that they have remarkably long lives: one survived more than 50 years in Copenhagen Zoo, though 20-30 is probably more likely in the wild.

Insects flying up from our mini-meadow will provide food for birds by day and bats by night.

Even when you can get the mower out again, maybe it’s worth leaving a corner or two uncut?  Some ideas here: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-grow-wild-patch

And if you decide a meadow is more interesting than a lawn, have a look at the Monmouthshire Meadows Group website (https://monmouthshiremeadows.org.uk/) for information and inspiration.

Why not grow a mini meadow for the 30 Days Wild challenge?