No Mow May is Plantlife’s hugely successful initiative to get people to do more for wildlife by doing less.

By not mowing some or even all of your site’s lawns for the month of May, you’ll save time and energy, and your lawns will put on a mystery display of wildflowers to reward you. You won’t know what might come up until you try it! But you can be sure that there will be a mix of flowers, colours and smells that will in turn feed and attract a range of insects including hungry bees and butterflies.

One acre of meadow is able to house 3 million flowers that can produce sufficient nectar to support over 150,000 bees every day. Just by leaving their lawnmowers in the shed, previous No Mow May participants have reported a profusion of daisies, clovers, selfheal, bird’s-foot-trefoil, germander speedwell, and many other wildflower species. And if you’re really lucky, you might discover enchanting orchids hiding in the grass, ready to flower when given the chance.

What about the mess?

In 2021, Fiona Megarrell, CSH’s Nature Recovery Ranger in Liverpool, left areas of grass to grow at Aintree and Broadgreen Hospitals through the month of May. Some of the maintenance staff worried about whether the long grass would look unkempt. Fiona and CSH’s rangers at other NHS trusts found that by working with groundskeepers, such concerns could be allayed. Mitigations they implemented included:

Such gentle negotiations paid off in full when one of the previously sceptical groundsmen brought Fiona to see the orchids that had appeared, seemingly from nowhere. These included not just one, but three different species: bee orchids, marsh orchids and pyramidal orchids. The latter orchid was the first record of the species in the city of Liverpool.

Aintree Hospital meadow during No Mow May, with neat edges
Aintree Hospital meadow during No Mow May, with neat edges. Photo: Fiona Megarrell / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Pyramidal orchid at Liverpool's Broadgreen Hospital during No Mow May
Pyramidal orchid at Liverpool’s Broadgreen Hospital during No Mow May. Photo: Fiona Megarrell / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

All you need to know is in the name!

One of the beauties of No Mow May is just how easy it is to implement. Talk with maintenance staff to discuss the benefits and their concerns. Make some necessary adjustments to your plan and display explanatory signs, so that passers-by know why the grass is a bit long. Once the flowers come up, the transformation of the grounds will enchant staff, patients, visitors and grounds keepers as well.

From the first of May through the 31st is long enough to have a huge impact on the wildflower population in your lawns. Fiona’s orchids emerged after just two weeks. Plantlife has advice about leaving some areas to grow for longer if you can, while cutting some monthly or more regularly, if you have to, after the end of May.

Selfheal and bird's foot trefoil in Liverpool hospital meadows after No Mow May
Selfheal and bird’s foot trefoil in Liverpool hospital meadows after No Mow May. Photo: Fiona Megarrell / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).
Our Southmead ranger helps staff identify wildflowers in the hospital meadows
Our Southmead ranger helps staff identify wildflowers in the hospital meadows. Photo: Vicki Brown / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

Floral fun

Running events is a great way to spread the joy and the word about No Mow May. Flower and butterfly ID sessions work well, and you don’t need extensive knowledge. A general field guide, such as the laminated leaflets produced by the Field Studies Council, is usable by amateurs and professionals alike. Drawing and photography events are also popular. If you have a profusion of daisies, there’s no harm in picking some to run a daisy chain activity.

These help people look more closely and will lead to greater understand the benefits of longer grass. Perhaps participants will take the practice back home to their own lawns, thereby amplifying the impact.

You might even be able to encourage hospital staff to celebrate the end of No Mow May with Plantlife’s Every Flower Counts citizen science survey, which will produce a site-specific nectar score that will tell you how many bees your lawn can feed. You’ll also contribute to their nationwide study of the country’s wildflowers.

Plantlife's wildflower ID guides
Plantlife’s wildflower ID guides. Photo: Vicki Brown / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).
Wildflower ID and drawing workshop at Southmead Hospital
Wildflower ID and drawing workshop at Southmead Hospital. Photo: Vicki Brown / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

That’s what our Bristol-based ranger, Phoebe Webster, did at Southmead Hospital. She calculated that the grass around the staff allotment produced 31.3 milligrams of nectar per square metre of lawn and supported 2,025 bees! Her survey also highlighted areas that lacked species diversity, encouraging the hospital to change grounds management to improve the productivity of green spaces in future years.

No Mow May was so popular at North Bristol NHS Trust that it is being carried into 2022, with local residents being encouraged to take part, an extension of last year’s wildflower seed giveaways and the establishment of a staff flower photography competition.

Let the flowers grow!

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