Lawns for Wildlife

IMG_5282

 

There is an increasing trend towards households having artificial lawns installed. This is a growing business as more and more people are having their lawns replaced, opting for a low maintenance alternative to the traditional lawn. However, whilst artificial lawns may seem like a good short-term solution, there are growing concerns on how this will affect our garden wildlife, as well as the environmental sustainability of such an industry.

Around 87% houses have gardens, which cover approximately 2% of all land. That’s a large area which is becoming more and more important for our wildlife as land use changes continue to prioritise everything but nature. Our gardens are some of the last refuges for many of our animals, including declining yet important pollinator species and our soil-dwelling fauna such as earthworms. In a study earlier this year, 42% of our farmland fields were shown to be deficient or even absent of earthworms, highlighting just how important our gardens are for such creatures.

Cinnabar moth larvae

Species such as this cinnabar moth larvae rely on plants which can be found in grasslands.

In the age of the climate crisis and threat of a 6th mass extinction, with many of our native flora and fauna in decline, it is imperative that our actions are helping not hindering this process. But, does that have to mean getting out the lawn mower and slogging away at the end of a long day at work? Not at all. In fact, a traditional lawn isn’t the ideal option either. There are some fantastic alternatives if a lawn isn’t something you are able to or want to maintain (which is totally fine too, because we’re not all blessed with the time or ability to do so).

Law mowing is such a drag. definitely my least favourite job. Letting the grass grow is great for wildlife but also appeals to my lazy side too!

So, what can you do instead?

Grow a meadow

Embrace the long grass and wildflowers. This option is much less work too, only needing to be cut twice a year; early spring and late summer.Cease mowing and over time your lawn will welcome other plants such as buttercups and dandelions which are incredibly beneficial to nectar-loving pollinators. If you want to add more colour, consider adding some wildflower seeds. I’d recommend native flowers as they also offer other benefits other than just nectar to our wildlife such as being food plants for caterpillars but it’s your garden so if you’d prefer a different mix, go for it. (but never sow non-native ‘wildflower’ seed mixes in the countryside).

lawn

This small lawn was left to grow to see what appeared; lots of dandelions, forget-me-nots, chickweed and even some tulips all appeared.

Low-growing plants

Plants like clover, creeping thyme and chamomile are wonderful as they are low-growing and easy to maintain, making an ideal alternative to grass, whilst also benefiting pollinators.

Meadow (6)

Clovers, medicks and birds-foot-trefoil make great plants to add to your lawn.

Grow a Moss Lawn

Perfect if your lawn is already prone to moss or is on a more acidic soil. Moss requires semi-shaded damp conditions to thrive – and it feels great under the toes!

Lawn

This lawn was mostly moss due to the damp and semi-shaded conditions of the garden.

 

Go lawn-less

Remove your lawn all together and opt for a more varied planting scheme with meandering pathways, richly planted beds and a decked area for seating. Lawn-less gardens can be both wildlife-friendly and low-maintenance. Using raised beds is an ideal way to create a garden if you’re less able to get to the ground to weed or prune whilst still creating an enjoyable space, as well as giving the option to incorporate some herb or vegetable growing.

Veg Patch

Adding a veg patch increases the diversity of your garden whilst also giving you tasty produce too!

 

These are just a few alternatives to lawns which are also wildlife friendly. Have you replaced your lawn?

 

Ringlets

Butterflies like these ringlets require long native grasses to breed.

Meadowmat – Wildflower turf

Not long to go now until the Norfolk Show, and this time I’ll be writing all about Meadowmat wildflower turf. Meadowmat have kindly donated some Wildflower turf to the pollinator plot which you’ll be able to find in the brand new horticulture area.
I collected the turf a couple of weeks ago from their site in Feltwell. It was a beautifully sunny day and the journey took me to a part of Norfolk I’m not very familiar with. Meeting their staff members, they knew exactly what I had ordered and kindly loaded the car with the turf – each piece being a 1 meter square – and all the turf folded in half just about fit in the boot of the car.

IMG_8747

The bees are enjoying the meadowmat

The turf was unloaded at home and placed in a secluded semi-shaded area which doesn’t seem to have done it any harm yet. In the long term this would probably affect the diversity of the turf, with it being more suited to an open sunny spot. In general, it has needed very little looking after – just regular watering as we don’t seem to have had one really rainy day since I collected it, just the odd drizzle. How little it has needed looking after really goes to show just how easy it can be to create a wildflower meadow, especially if you wanted to do so quickly and without the risk of sowing seeds and hoping they all germinate.

1

The plant composition seems fairly diverse. Plenty of meadow grasses, yorkshire fog, crested dog’s tail and some beautiful fescues too, and most importantly the absence of any bully grasses such as false oat grass, couch grass and perennial rye which can take over in small meadow areas (especially if nutrients increase).

There are also plenty of flowers within the mix. Some have finished flowering already, and the poppies are almost over, but the cornflowers are still in full bloom. There’s also bird’s-foot trefoil (a larval food plant for the blue butterflies), wild carrot, plantains, red and white campions, and plenty more.

2

There are many ways to install a wildflower meadow in your garden and using Meadowmat is a great way to get an instant impact. There are different plant mixes available too including a mix for birds and bees, a cottage garden mix and even a mix suitable to a shaded area. Alternatively, if you are low on space, you can get turf designed for green roofs. Whatever your desired end result there’s a turf for you! If you’d like to find out more, do come and say hello at the Norfolk Show and have a look at the meadow yourself. I’ll be around both days to answer any questions you might have.

keep an eye out for the next two blogs coming up; one on British Wild Flower Plants (the perfect place to buy plug plants to add to your meadowmat!) and the Species Recovery Trust.

x Larissa

Easton College Nature Reserve

Yesterday I spent the day doing one of the things that makes me happiest; wandering around looking at and recording plants. This time I was at the Easton and Otley College open day at the Easton Campus, just outside of Norwich. The college boasts a 245 acre farm and within this farmland there is a real gem (which even some of the college tutors haven’t visited) – the Water Meadows, situated along the river Yare. This is where I was, alongside other naturalists, ex-students and tutors Jerry, Anna and Nick.

Arriving at the Water Meadows, Nick gave some of us a tour around the site so we were aware of the boundaries and where we could wander and record. We headed towards the river and then west towards a fallen (non-native) Poplar tree. On the way we looked under the reptile refuge and saw three wonderful grass snakes. Just a little further on, the meadow was abundant with southern marsh orchid Dactylorhiza praetermissa including one monster specimen! There were also a few early marsh orchids Dactylorhiza incarnata too but these were almost over, but I have never seen such a density.

 

 

The Water Meadows run adjacent to the river and seem to be largely comprised of four areas, separated by ditches of open water. Some patches were clearly more diverse than others. The meadows are used for grazing highland cattle by the college and some areas have been enhanced with nitrates for the grazing, although this was a while ago now and the flora does seem to be recovering well.

IMG_8897

The next four hours were spent surveying the plants within the meadows. In total I recorded 79 flowering plant species and I am confident this is nowhere near a complete list, with many more species yet to be found. What I did notice is that for an area which has been largely neglected, and at times, mistreated with nitrate enhancement, the diversity of plants is certainly comparable to any other nature reserve. In fact, the list reminded me of a similar survey carried out on an FSC training course in Slapton Ley – a National Nature Reserve on the South Coast. Notable plant species included masses of common valerian Valeriana officinalis  and meadow rue Thalictrum flavum and of course the plant which probably has the best scientific name ever – brooklime Veronica becabunga. Say it, go on – ‘bec-a-bun-ga’. Beautiful! 


I tried to record other non-plant species that I could as I went around, which included four butterfly species: small white, meadow brown, red admiral and a skipper which skipped away before we could ID it. There were also common carder bees Bombus pascorum and white tailed bumble bees Bombus lucorum, red-headed cardinal beetles Pyrochroa serraticornis and garden chafers Phyllopertha horticola, a rove beetle, likely Bolitobius sp. and numerous hoverflies which flew before I could photograph them. There were also numerous odonata including a few Norfolk Hawkers Aeshna isoceles and masses of banded demoiselles Calopteryx splendens by the river. These are just the invertebrates which I spotted and I am far from being an expert. I am sure the real experts managed to record many more.

One of the downsides of studying ecology based subjects is that the academic year runs from Sept- June with the latter months usually reserved for exams or putting together final projects. However, the key time of the year to learn about plants is during the flowering season – which for an area like the water meadows, the best months will be June- August. (Because of this, I have never seen the meadows looking so wonderful having only ever visited in Winter!).

The water meadows could be utilised far not only around the whole year, but also during the summer. The college could offer short courses in natural history or identification, or use the meadows as a location for school children to discover pond life or invertebrates. Even as a location for Forest Schools. There are so many possibilities and just so much potential.

Though the most important is to firstly recognise what a wonderful resource it is, and quite rightly it deserves the upgraded title of Easton College Nature Reserve.

x Larissa

Bird’s foot trefoil

I absolutely love this plant, and this blog does a great job at explaining why.

Scotland's Nature

The familiar and unpretentious bird’s-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) seems to be spread all over the Scottish landscape; it is found on grasslands, meadows, rock ledges, sand dunes, derelict sites and roadside verges. This perennial herb, member of the legume family (Fabaceae, which includes peas, vetches, broad beans and clovers) is valued in many countries as pasture, hay, and silage, although it has become an invasive species in some parts of North America and Australia.

Bird's foot trefoil and daisies Bird’s foot trefoil and daisies

But more importantly for the aspect of ecosystem services, the bird’s-foot-trefoil is a larval food plant for several butterflies and moths and a valuable nectar source for many other insects. And, like some other legumes, the bird’s-foot-trefoil produces highly nutritious pollen.

However, it is not advantageous for the plant to make its pollen available to all that want it; pollen grains, which are full of proteins, amino-acids and vitamins, require…

View original post 313 more words

Ragwort – dispelling the myths

Ragwort – Senecio jacobaea is a contentious topic I’ve noticed recently. When ever a photo is posted for identification on different Facebook groups I am following, the comments show a big divide of opinion and the same myths are often used in arguing for its eradication.

For those of you who are unaware of this native plant from the asteraceae family , ragwort is often known for its toxicity to horses and cattle. Some people believe that its toxicity is to be feared and that just by touching it the plant can cause liver failure and so must be removed at all costs – and there has been plenty of media hype to continue this prejudice. However, whilst it is potentially harmful to horses, it also has plenty of benefits to wildlife.

I want to write this because when we moved in last year and the garden was overgrown, there were quite a few ragwort plants in flower around the garden and my first instinct was to go around and pull it all up. I’m glad I didn’t and that I looked into it a little bit, because I later discovered a plant with a few caterpillars of the day-flying cinnabar moth Tyria jacobaeae happily munching away at the leaves. These beautifully distinct larvae with their stripy bodies rely on ragwort as a food plant and without it these critters can not complete their life cycle. Because of the control of ragwort a decline in the numbers of cinnabar moths has been noticed.

Ragwort is also an excellent nectar source for pollinators; bees, butterflies and hoverflies in particular. We had gatekeepers Pyronia tithonus visiting our plants last year which was a new butterfly for me and very exciting. Ragwort is thought to be essential to at least 30 invertebrates, so it really is in my opinion much more of a friend than a foe. This year, I have also planted marsh ragwort Senecio aquaticus around my pond because of how great it is for invertebrates.

2014-07-18 13.33.56

Ragwort control is only really necessary if it occurs in or around a field which is producing hay. This is because ragwort is harmful to horses and they are unable to detect the dried ragwort in hay and the toxicity of the plant remains. Ingestion of dried ragwort can lead to liver failure which is understandably a very good reason to avoid it – although how dangerous it really is is debated given the difficulty in identifying ragwort poisoning as a cause of death. It is also perhaps a good idea to remove it from any grazing paddocks ‘just in case’ even though horses tend to avoid it when it is fresh. We remove it at work when the sheep graze just as a precaution, although I’ve noticed a few plants after they have arrived and the sheep have seemed to avoid them too. It is also worth noting that there is no legislation requiring the removal of ragwort as is often believed. If ragwort is causing a problem then there are powers for an order for removal to be made through the Weeds act 1959, but an order has to be made for this to be enforced.

Ragwort will not harm humans unless perhaps you eat a lot of it. I’ve pulled it up with my bare hands many times with no adverse effects. There is of course the chance that you may be more sensitive to it and for every ten people who are okay with it, there will be one who developed a rash I’m sure.

If you would like to find out more about the truth of ragwort then there is lots of information about it on the internet such as here, here and here. In the meantime, if you find any growing in your garden let it grow and keep an eye out for the cinnabar moth!

“Tyria jacobaeae-04 (xndr)” by Svdmolen – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons