Driving home from fieldwork one day last week, I was dismayed to see that a Wokingham borough council mowing team had attacked one of the big roundabouts on the A4 near Twyford, as well as a stretch of central reservation in the dual-carriageway section between Twyford and Sonning. Before the onslaught of the lethal blades these were attractive expanses of rough long grass with plenty of spring flowers, chiefly cow parsley and buttercups. A vital food source for invertebrates as well as being very attractive in their own right. Now it looks dreadful, as though given a haircut by a particularly incompetent trainee barber. Unfortunately so does our back garden lawn since yesterday. We share the garden with a downstairs neighbour who finally decide it was time to ‘tidy’ the burgeoning meadow we had so enjoyed watching from our living room window.
In the last few years Plantlife have been running a campaign under the banner ‘Say no to mow’, encouraging gardeners to leave ‘wild’ areas in their lawns and responsible bodies such as local authorities or the highways agency to scale back their mowing regimes. Done well this is a win-win for wildlife and stretched council budgets, but by recent evidence it seems difficult to change entrenched habits.
The official phase of the campaign seems to have died, but it is still a principle worth supporting and it was heartening to see the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust pick up the theme in a letter to the Times recently. As they point out, farmers are prevented from mowing field hedges and grass margins* throughout the spring and summer, so perhaps other land managers should be subject to the same regime. Whether we also want to go down the road of imposing wildlife-friendly private gardening under threat of financial penalty is another matter – telling people what they can and cannot do with their ‘property’ would probably be considered the most perverse of heresies in England! – but there must be something more proactive we/I can do than complaining about our neighbours and councils on the internet.
In the meantime, I’ll go on having my spirits mown down each time I see a patch of flowering grassland mercilessly flailed. Unless you’re running a golf course, or a cricket pitch, or in a pinch a nature reserve set up to protect short-turf specialists, this obsession with short grass has gone too far. And another thing: who else finds that the peace of warm and sunny days is blighted round the clock by the collective buzz of a thousand lawnmowers? For the beauty and tranquillity of England, say no to the mow!