The councils in Somerset declared an ecological emergency in 2019. Since then, we have been trialling various changes in how we manage our open spaces to improve biodiversity. This includes sowing wildflowers, and leaving some areas of grass to grow longer than we normally would.
Access for residents must always be the priority in public open spaces, but they can take a supportive role in helping nature recovery. During winter 2021 to 2022, we engaged the Somerset Wildlife Trust to help us write a grassland management strategy. The strategy allows us to improve biodiversity in our parks and open spaces, whilst still ensuring that their main purpose as spaces for residents to enjoy is retained.
We worked with the Somerset Wildlife Trust, which helped us create a decision tree that best identifies opportunities for changing mowing routines. This is to support wildlife, depending on whether open spaces are high use, moderate use, and infrequent use.
Where an area is high use, for example, one of our flagship town parks such as Vivary Park in Taunton, play areas, where children play sport, or people enjoy picnics, or open spaces close to houses, we are committed to mowing frequently. These areas will always be maintained with access for people as a priority.
Where areas are identified as moderate or infrequent use, the decision tree helps us to identify the best suited and most efficient mowing ‘themes’ for that area. The tree is designed to consider nature recovery, whilst still understanding the needs of local residents.
The four themes are:
Grass will continue to be kept short to allow for non-sporting recreational activities, and easy public access will be unaffected.
Flowering lawns will be areas that typically have a lot of clover and low-growing flowering plants. The cutting frequency in these areas will be longer to allow for flowering.
These will typically be less frequently used areas of open space.
Annually cut long grass with paths
Grass will be allowed to grow long and will be cut annually to increase the structural diversity of the vegetation, but prevent it from becoming weedy. Clippings will be removed from site after each cut.
These areas can be of any size – they can be islands in a larger grassland area, under groups of trees or borders along hedges. These will typically be less frequently used areas of open space.
These areas will provide shelter for overwintering wildlife and for wildlife that need long, tussocky grass to complete their life cycle. They will remain as grass and not be allowed to turn to scrub, with cuts every other year, in Autumn. Clippings will be removed from site after each cut.
Winter Shelter areas will typically be under trees or around park boundaries and watercourses.
The strategy is designed to be flexible, so if certain areas are deemed not suitable to continue being cut in the new way, they can be returned to their original cutting style.
Somerset Council began working towards implementation of these themes during Summer 2022.