No Mow May in London's Largest Parks
The Nationwide Movement has been in the headlines, and in LettsSafari +, so this week we explore where mowing has been avoided in Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.
No Mow May is a movement close to the heart of LettsSafari. Started in 2019 by botanical charity Plantlife the movement has expanded as the media and public figures have drawn our attention to the importance of biodiversity in all our green spaces. Now ever increasing numbers of people and places across the UK take part in No Mow May. The No Mow movement is something LettsSafari’s founders have practiced in some form since 2007 (before it was a movement) and has become a hallmark of LettsSafari’s ethos since it’s founding.
But in London the movement is still met with greater challenges, and no official decision to participate has taken place. With today’s greater emphasis on wilding, wildlife conservation and a wider mission to tackle the biodiversity crisis in green spaces in the capital, we thought it was a good time to experience first hand how London has adapted its mowing plans over the last month. We visited several parks in West Central London, to understand what happened during No Mow May.
Beginning in Green Park, the spaces of wild grasses are certainly noticeable. Largely kept to corners and sides, running along deeper beds, the un-mowed spaces are noticeable, but not accessible. In a way this can be very good, ensuring that the grasses are able to grow and harbour insect life and it leaves small mammals undisturbed.
However, it also leads to larger areas with significantly more human traffic, and those open spaces are being mowed. Of course accessibility to open spaces is important, but it's still somewhat disappointing. After all open spaces, left for human traffic and picnics don’t need to be mowed. That activity would keep grass low by itself.
It means that spaces like in the picture above, though wonderful and adding a natural beauty, are side-lined behind low fences, and can’t be enjoyed by the public. Most importantly though, the total open space to be left wild and free is reduced, and habitats are forced together, not able to make use of the wide expanse of space available. At LettsSafari’s parks and gardens we introduce systems where paths and sitting areas are carefully designed and mowed in for walking and resting so visitors can get closer to the action found in wild grasses. Visitors are respectful and generally stick to mowed areas without the need for fencing.
Another tactic in London parks has been to allow for significant growth over more abandoned areas, such as this small mound, which is intended to be the backing of some sort of stage, and has been left un-mown, and most importantly, has been allowed to grow numerous weeds, like ragwort loved by caterpillars, and stinging nettle and thistle.
Journeying beyond Green Park and up to Hyde Park just past the grand roundabout around Hyde Park Corner. In Hyde Park grasses seem to be given more space, with less mowing to allow for more general maintenance handling by the public traffic through the park.
Hyde Park has thus increased the amount of green spaces that are seeding, and reproducing wilder growth. Additionally, it creates a more symbiotic, almost communal space in which people moving through it and using the space help to maintain the proper levels of grass growth, while more minor interventions will need to take place to keep invasive species at bay. They seem to recognise that as the public get exposed to wilder grasses they will start to understand that putting the mower away can lead to a step change in biodiversity, including a tenfold increase in bees thanks to nectar-rich plants such as white clover and daisy.
Hyde Park has also still retained some of the mowing through its spaces, but it has a much greater amount of space dedicated to wild growth. This also helps create the feeling of multiple habitats, and restricts significant traffic and activity over more wild areas, that could leave damage to both the wild environment, and the insect, mammal and bird life thriving within.
Hyde Park in general produces a better balance of wilded to mown spaces, with large areas allowed to be totally wild, creating an enjoyable space to walk and relax. It avoids side-lining its wild spaces to the corners, and even allows for certain growth areas to be maintained by traffic or activity, rather than the persistent mowing by a machine.
Kensington Gardens largely continues the theme from Hyde Park, although Kensington Gardens has greater instances of large mown spaces. They mow to contain the lawns growth but consistent traffic would certainly retain the pathways through grasses and encourage wild growth and new habits and expectations of the park’s users.
The space is perhaps only mown in that way so as to open the view up to Kensington Palace, something of a poor excuse to reduce the natural elements of these public parks. Nevertheless Kensington Gardens does have thriving un-mown spaces, including those that are left to be maintained by the traffic and activity of the public. Even the gardens around Kensington Palace have increasingly large natural areas, even if certain parts of the garden, particularly around the entrance are still meticulously mown.
Let us know what you have been doing for No Mow May. Leave it in a comment!
Walking out of the Gardens you can also find runs of unmown grasses, filled with families enjoying the London spring weather, helping to keep it to appropriate levels of growth, as well as maintaining important pathways, without the intervention of wide mowing. It makes for a lovely exit to the park, reminding us of the importance of these wild spaces, and the reason for a speedy return to more natural environments in our urban jungles.
Overall, the work of “No Mow May” seems to be having an effect, creating larger and more prominent wild and un-mown spaces in London’s most central parks, however, there are still improvements to be made, and it is important to consider that we should endeavour to create natural spaces that don’t need machines to keep them down, we can use ourselves, and our activities or traffic to do the same work those machines would. As our more natural wildlife friends have done for centuries in their wilder climes.
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