Say no to the mow

Saving nature is easier if you team up. Just ask the folk in Wivenhoe, Essex. From a lockdown lightbulb moment came a project to bring nature buzzing back into their town.

A male Broad-bodied Chaser Dragonfly perched on a twig.
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I fought the lawn and the lawn won

Like many of us, Wivenhoe residents had become used to the routine of sun’s out, mowers out. But for resident Mark Halladay, life in lockdown in the small Essex town produced a lightbulb moment.

“The mowers had been left in the depot, and all the verges looked fantastic,” he said. “It was a wet spring and the flowers had come in. But by mid-June, the supermarkets had opened, the mowers were back and the wildflowers obliterated – just when we were being told that nature was what we needed to keep us going in lockdown!”.

But having seen the difference no mowing made, Mark wasn’t about to watch things go back to normal: “That’s where it started for me - a drive to the supermarket”.

Mark contacted Wivenhoe Town Council about his concerns and ideas for the town, and soon enough, local Councillor Glyn Evans was on side. Before long, an enthusiastic group of volunteers was ready to combat their overly trimmed verges as well. And once Colchester Borough Council gave their support, “the rest is history”, says Mark. Wivenhoe Green Spaces was born.

“We started with the easy wins”, says Mark, “we took public spaces and persuaded the relevant council not to mow them”. The councils were convinced and drew up plans for areas that could easily be given back to nature. In return, the Wivenhoe Green Spaces volunteers agreed to carry out surveys to measure the biodiversity boost the project gave the area. In total, 15 verges and green spaces around the town were agreed to be left unmown for six months from March until September: “and we got lots of positive comments from the public”. Soon, the councils were in talks to leave more spaces unmown.

A young child with a beetle on the back of their hand.

A buzz about town

It’s not an overnight process. “Some of these verges”, Mark tells us, “have been continuously mowed for upwards of 70 years”. But nature is already bouncing back. Last year, volunteers of the project found a whopping 141 different wildflower species. There’s a lot of variation from one verge to the next, with sightings that range from ants to deer. But, for Glyn, it doesn’t matter which creatures turn up: “any wildlife will do for us; we just want more of it.”

The team are not finished yet. This year, “we’ve maintained last year’s areas but also gone into residential streets. Which is a little bit more challenging.” Now the team’s challenge is to strike a balance between buzzing and barren in the town’s most populated areas. They've found that getting local school children involved in making signs for the verges has been a great way of explaining the project to them. And the team has high hopes beyond their immediate verges. As Glyn puts it: “If we’re going to properly address the climate and biodiversity emergency, I don’t want it to stop at Wivenhoe. Whatever works here, can work around the planet”.

It’s true - by mowing your lawn less, you can make a haven for nature, too.

Let’s boost our biodiversity

Because of the actions of this small but dedicated group, nature has been given the space to return to Wivenhoe. With a little bit of support, their small patch is already beginning to flourish. Because given the chance, nature will spring back.

Globally, biodiversity loss is happening. But projects like this one show that it’s not too late to change the story. We have the power to influence our local and national governments, and together, we can demand protection for the natural world we love and depend on.

In December, at the global biodiversity conference, COP15, we’ll have a chance to speak up for local and global wildlife and the natural world we depend on. The clock is ticking, but together, we can call time on biodiversity loss. Find out more here.

Explore more ways to save nature:
  1. Eat chocolate
  2. Defend the Albatross
  3. Team up for a century
  4. See All The Ways
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