Gardeners are being urged to “do nothing for nature” by leaving their lawnmower in the shed and letting wildflowers bloom on their lawns in May.
Plantlife is encouraging people to take part in its “No Mow May” campaign, leaving the lawn unmown for the month to boost the number of daisies, dandelions and other flowers that provide food for pollinators.
The wildlife charity is warning of the impact of climate change on the nation’s grassy areas – with increasing spring drought affecting plants and their relationship with pollinators even more quickly than rising temperatures.
But it is hoping to build on a growing interest in “rewilding” in everyday life, and the increased connection many people have to nature around them as a result of lockdown, to encourage the most wildlife-friendly lawns possible.
And they are far from the biological deserts that some think, with people taking part in a citizen survey of their lawns last year spotting nearly 100 different species of pollinators including bees and butterflies, the charity said.
Results from Plantlife’s “every flower counts” survey shows mowing just once a month produces the most amount of flowers and nectar, while leaving some areas long and uncut encourages other wildflowers.
Last year’s survey, in which people counted the flowers they see in a one metre square patch of their lawn, highlighted the impact of a changing climate, with flowers wilting in the the driest May since 1896, Plantlife said.
It found 56% fewer dandelion flowers and 40% fewer daisies on lawns compared with 2019.
The warm conditions encouraged nectar-rich summer flowers such as white and red clover, oxeye daisies and hawkbit to bloom early, so there was only a 2% drop-off in nectar available for bees, analysis showed.
Now after a very dry April this year, the best thing people can do if lawns are suffering from drought is leave them unmown in May to allow the remaining flowers in them to bloom, Plantlife’s Dr Trevor Dines said.
He explained that a mix of plants with wildflowers such as birds foot trefoil, self-heal and even dandelions can make a lawn more resilient to drought, while knapweed and wild carrot are good for longer areas of grass.
“If you want to have a drought-resistant lawn you want a good mix of native plants because they will often have deeper roots that go down further and can tap into scant water resources,” he said.
Last year, amid rising concern over wildlife, the pandemic lockdown and Plantlife’s No Mow May campaign, the proportion of people taking part in the every flower counts survey who left their lawns unmown leapt.
Some 36% of the more than 3,200 participants reported the mower had stayed in the shed for a month compared with 15% in 2019, while those who had not mowed their lawn for a year doubled from from 10% to 21% in 2020.
Dr Dines said: “As our daily horizons shrank to the confines of our homes and gardens – people sought out connections with nature like never before.
“We’ve come to appreciate the vital role wildflowers play in supporting a wealth of wildlife and are less comfortable with the neat-and-tidy aesthetic, embracing a wilder approach instead.”
Dr Kate Petty, Plantlife’s road verge campaign manager, said: “These results are so exciting as they mirror the national trend towards less cutting of road verges, with seven out of 10 councils now making efforts to encourage wild flowers on verges.”
Plantlife is encouraging everyone from homeowners to park keepers and schools to change their mowing regimes to maximise the boost lawns give to wildlife.
For more information about No Mow May and the every flower counts survey taking place from May 22-31, people can visit https://www.plantlife.org.uk/uk/discover-wild-plants-nature/no-mow-may and https://www.plantlife.org.uk/everyflowercounts/