Is it time to embrace a 'No Mow Summer' to protect UK Wildlife?

As British Summer Time comes to an end, Ray Star, author of the best-selling Earthlings series, makes the case for letting our gardens grow over the summer months.

Lawn wild flowers Wales
Lawn wild flowers Wales

Image credit: 'Grazed meadow' by Mike Erskine (Unsplash License)

Ray Star

​​As British Summer Time draws to an end, signs of autumn can already be seen, as the leaves begin to fall, and the evening welcomes us with a newly acquired chill. This picturesque time of year is welcomed by many, soft blankets and steaming mugs of hot cocoa at the ready, and for the nature lovers amongst us, it’s the ideal time to reflect on another summer gone by. If you were lucky enough, you may have glimpsed native wildlife in your very own garden, from a hungry hedgehog snuffling in your hedgerows to a scream of swifts returning home to roost in wall cavities and swift bricks.

Summertime in the UK is undoubtedly one of the prettiest times of the year, postcard-worthy in many places, with a host of green spaces to visit and enjoy, from public playing fields to nature reserves. But sadly, something that is becoming noticeably more prominent each year, is the lack of colour within these spaces. Greys of buildings and greens of fields we may have in abundance, but splashes of colour from wildflowers in bloom and pollinators passing by, are becoming increasingly more difficult to find.

British wildlife has suffered a devastating blow in recent years, with the UK being declared one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world and more than one in seven native species facing extinction with over 40 per cent of species in major decline. There are many contributing factors to this stark reality, but debatably the greatest driver of destruction is habitat loss.

The UK has lost over 97 per cent of its wildflower meadows since the 1930s and land that was once teeming with life, providing sustenance and shelter, has been replaced by rural housing and farmland. As a result, there are far and few places in Britain that remain truly wild and free, resulting in a mass decline in native species across the country. And, on a more positive note; a unique opportunity for people to embrace a little wildness at home.

Wilderness may be lacking in our countryside, but Britain is home to a multitude of passionate nature lovers advocating for wildlife, and, against all odds, trying desperately to save it. From signing up for the Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild challenge, planting wildflower seeds and bee bombs, building insect hotels and homemade ponds, to creating hedgehog highways and bird boxes, people of all ages across the country are welcoming non-human life back into their homes and embracing wildlife-friendly living.

One of the most renowned eco-activities that has increased in popularity is Plant Life’s No Mow May, where participants refrain from cutting their grass to allow struggling flora and fauna the chance to nurture and grow. Participants have reported sightings of wondrous wildlife from Purple Emperor Butterflies to Nightingales, and upon seeing the difference a wild space makes to a wildlife-friendly garden, the option to leave the lawn mower in the shed a little longer and embrace Let It Bloom June is hard to resist.

But why stop there? Why not opt for a No Mow Summer?

Along with providing habitats, safety and sustenance for animal and insect life both above and below the ground, the additional benefits of allowing your space to grow wild each summer are hard to ignore. Longer grass reduces pollution by helping to clean the air and trapping carbon dioxide, improves soil quality, decreases noise pollution, lowers flood risk, and reduces surface and air temperatures too. Multiple studies have also shown that regular access to nature can have life-changing health benefits, both physically and mentally, for all age groups.

But with such an impressive list of pros, what are the cons? Truthfully, it’s hard to find one, other than the elephant in the room… the quintessentially British trait of having a neat and tidy lawn.

Whilst nature lovers are plentiful, so (much to nature’s demise) is the rise of plastic carpet gardens. The global turf market has grown over seven per cent in the past five years, due to the demand for turf grass in both the residential and commercial sector. And whilst a minimalistic garden can be aesthetically pleasing, it has zero benefits for wildlife, and is proven to be harmful both to the environment and to humans, raising temperatures, leeching microplastics into the soil, and it can’t be recycled – a landfill disaster already in the making.

The assumption that a wild garden is an untidy one is a preconception that has, perhaps, done as much harm to nature as pesticides and the labelling of wildflowers as ‘weeds’. There are many ways to enjoy the benefits of a wild space, without the dreaded knock on the door from Derek and Anette at number 42 asking you to mow your lawn.

Research has shown that the most beneficial wild spaces have a mix of both longer grasses and wildflowers, along with shorter trimmed areas too. This allows for a wider birth of biodiversity and will entice more visitors to your garden, whilst providing the prospect of a tidy wild space. Whether you opt for a half-and-half approach, a pathway through the middle, or a border of grasses and wildflowers to compliment a shorter lawn, any area that is left to grow can benefit nature on your doorstep, it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach, and you can reap the rewards too.

To get the most from a wildlife-friendly garden, non-intrusive wildlife cameras are an exciting way to gain an understanding of the visitors – or residents – in your wild space. A free wildlife-identifying app that’s well worth a download is Seek by iNaturalist, this way you can store and log your discoveries whilst learning about their origin. And, if you do opt to try a No Mow Summer next year, spread the love – encourage others to get involved.

Local councils that participate in No Mow May have seen fantastic results. Just imagine grass verges in August 2024 pulsing with pollinators, full of Oxeye daisies, Birds-foot trefoil, Meadow Cranesbill, Marigold, and Knapweed … and endless wildlife wonders enjoying their nectar.