Nothing causes meadow and grassland owners more anxiety and uncertainty than the question of mowing: is mowing a good idea? and if so when is the best time to mow?
Firstly, and most importantly, mowing is absolutely essential if you wish to create and maintain a meadow with maximum flowering diversity and interest. The word ‘Meadow’ itself derives from the old English word ‘to mow.’ Historically meadows only came into existence after the invention of the scythe: a revolutionary tool which made it possible to mow grass and make hay to feed livestock through winter. The fact that this mowing system also gives rise to some of the most botanically rich grassland habitat in Europe was a happy historical accident, but is definitely something to emulate for best results from your wild flower meadow. The revolutionary modern scythe remains the best tool for achieving this.
It is not whether to cut but when to cut that is important. The timing and number of cuts in different mowing regimes and cutting cycles each produce different results and changes in the structure and composition of your meadow. As well as a practical tool to mow meadows, scythes deliver complete control to the hands of meadow owners to decide what to cut and when. It means you do not have to cut all your meadow at once: by staggering mowing through the season, you can develop a patchwork mosaic of subtly different effects and habitats for wildlife across your site. The mowing season ‘haytime’ typically begins at the end of June and continues until the end of August with its peak in mid-July.
You will hear all sorts of conflicting and confusing advice on mowing meadows. The annual Plantlife “No Mow May” campaign is unfortunately one source of uncertainty as often the ‘no mow’ emphasis gets taken as meaning that mowing is generally bad, and does not make clear that a cutting plan needs to follow. The slogan should perhaps read something like “no mow May, scythe back in July” (a scythe is the ideal tool as once a ‘now mow lawn’ has grown tall people are surprised to find that a lawn mower is of no use!). People who urge you to leave all your meadow uncut right through until autumn for the benefit of wildlife, such insects, are missing the fact that this means that you will quickly lose most of the essential delicate fodder, pollen and nectar plants which characterise a well-managed (mown) meadow; they will be quickly overwhelmed by unregulated tall rank grass and herbs. Any short-term benefit to insects in that one season is far outweighed by the long-term loss of habitat quality of meadow grassland. Tall rank late-cut grassland does offer some different habitat benefits to meadow grassland but is easily provided by default simply by leaving some areas unmanaged.
More detailed information on managing your sown meadows can be found on our Additional Information pages. For further information on obtaining a scythe and associated scythe and grassland management training please visit wildscythe.co.uk.
Author: Richard Brown