To Mow the Meadow

The newly mown meadow

The meadow has now been mowed.

Other than a small patch that the tractor couldn’t get in to because of overhanging branches, the growth has been shorn away for another year.

Overhanging oak branches

This is always a sad thing to see, but it is necessary. The general advice for meadow management is that mowing takes place somewhere between late July and the end of August, either in one big mow, or in several smaller ones that segment the space. We’re actually a little late in mowing, having left it until September! And last year the weather meant that it couldn’t be mown at all.

The unmown strip

If mowing doesn’t take place, the grass will come to dominate again, creating a thatch that the wildflowers find it impossible to compete against. By mowing, and removing the cut growth, the soil fertility remains unproductive enough to allow the wildflowers to flourish. This might seem counterintuitive at first, but wildflowers don’t like rich, fertile soils. The more fertile the soil, the more likely it is that grasses will outcompete wildflowers. This is why the addition of fertiliser to farmland – which is seen as so important for increasing levels  of human food production – has had such a negative effect on plant diversity. The margins of farmers’ fields are one of the places where wildflowers can often be found, but a great many species have been outcompeted by plants and grasses that require rich soil. This has, in turn, had a knock on effect on the populations of insects, birds and small mammals that rely on them, and on the food webs that they are a part of.

The meadow covered in fallen cuttings

The main worry, when it comes to mowing, is the insect life to be found in in the space and how it will fare. There were still so many things to be found – ladybirds, beetles, and bugs galore – only a day or so before the mow. We just have to hope that they all managed to flee the mower’s destructive path. I did manage to spot a few things while I was there, but they were far harder to find than they had been previously.

The next task that needs to be undertaken in the meadow is the removal of the dying foliage that is currently covering the space. This needs to be left for a few days in order for all of the seeds to fall to earth ready for future germination. Once this has been done, however, it needs to be cleared away in order to both prevent it rotting down and adding extra, unwanted nutrients to the soil, and to avoid it smothering plants any plants below. This weekend will see a number of us down there with rakes in hand.

Meadow cuttings

If you would like to know more about meadow management, here are a few pages that you could visit for further information on the topic:

RHS

Habitat Aid

RSPB

This post is for day 102 of 365 Days Wild.


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