No Mow May

No Mow May: how to get ten times more bees on your lockdown lawn

Join Plantlife’s No Mow May campaign and say “no” to the mow this May to help our bees, butterflies, wildlife and us!

The temptation for many of us in lockdown Britain is to get on with jobs in the garden – including getting that lawn into the classic British stripe. But results released today by Plantlife demonstrate the spectacular benefits both we and our garden wildlife receive from not mowing throughout May. Like the nation’s haircuts, can we adapt to a less rigorous regime and ‘No Mow May’?

Research undertaken by citizen scientists across the UK who have taken part in Plantlife’s Every Flower Counts – the largest-ever survey of the humble lawn – reveal not only the astonishing diversity of wild flowers growing on Britain’s lawns, but that incredibly simple changes in mowing can result in enough nectar for ten times more bees and other pollinators.

• Over 200 species were found flowering on lawns including rarities such as meadow saxifrage, knotted clover and eyebright
• The top three most abundant lawn flowers are daisy, white clover and selfheal. Over half a million flowers have been counted, including 191,200 daisies.
• First ever National Nectar Score for our lawns: all lawn flowers in the survey combined produced a colossal 23kg of nectar sugar per day, enough to support 2.1 million – or around 60,000 hives – of honeybees.
• ‘Mohican’ lawn cut suits all: Highest production of flowers and nectar were on lawns cut every four weeks, whilst longer, unmown grass had a wider range of flowers.

Every Flower Counts found that 80% of lawns supported the equivalent of around 400 bees a day from the nectar sugar produced by flowers such as dandelion, white clover and selfheal. But 20% of lawns (dubbed “superlawns”) were found to be supporting 10 times as many – up to 4000 bees a day.

Plantlife asked participants how often they mowed their lawns and those who had left their lawns unmown for No Mow May revealed very different – and exciting – results for our beleaguered pollinators:

• The highest production of flowers and nectar sugar was on lawns cut once every four weeks. This gives ‘short-grass’ plants like daisies and white clover a chance to flower in profusion, boosting nectar production tenfold.
• Areas of longer unmown grass were, however, more diverse in their range of flowers, with other nectar-rich plants like oxeye daisy, field scabious and knapweed increasing the range of nectar sources for different pollinators and extending nectar availability into late summer.

“The sheer quantity of flowers and nectar production on lawns mown once a month can be astonishing,” Dr Trevor Dines, Plantlife’s Botanical Specialist, explains. “We’ve discovered that plants like daisy, white clover and bird’s-foot trefoil are superbly adapted to growing in shorter swards. These short-grass, ‘mower-ducking’ plants stay low down with stems well out of the way of the mower blades, but continually produce large numbers of flowers every few weeks. If these flowers are cut off by mowing, it just stimulates the plants to produce yet more flowers, boosting nectar production.”

“In contrast, tall-grass species like oxeye daisy, red clover, field scabious and knapweed grow upright and take longer to reach flowering size. They can’t cope with being cut off regularly, so only bloom in grass that’s not been mown for several months or more. Our results show these unmown long-grass areas are home to a greater range of wild flower species, complimenting the narrower range found in short-grass areas.”

These findings pave the way for new guidelines on how to manage our lawns for wildlife. Dr Dines added: “In any garden, big or small, we’d now advise keeping two lengths of grass. Leave some patches completely unmown to let taller flowers come into bloom. For the rest of the lawn, you can keep the grass shorter by mowing once every month to a height of 1 or 2 inches. You’ll cut off some flowers when you do mow but they’ll come back quickly; you can even rotate patches around your garden so there are always some areas in flower. For flowers, bees and butterflies there is one lawn ‘haircut’ that really suits: the mohican. Most should be given a monthly cut to boost short sward plants but there should also ideally be an area set aside for longer grass where floral diversity abounds.”

For the first time ever, Plantlife’s Every Flower Counts has quantified the amount of nectar sugar being produced on our lawns. This National Nectar Score shows that in 2019 the average lawn produced 12 grams of nectar sugar per day, enough to support 1088 honeybees. When all the lawns in the survey were combined, they were producing 23 kg of nectar sugar per day. That’s enough to support 2.1 million – or around 60,000 hives – of honeybees.

Dr Dines added: “Of course, all this nectar is available to a huge range of pollinating insects – from flies and beetles to butterflies and bumblebees. With a third of wild bees and hoverflies in declineEvery Flower Counts shows the vital difference everyone with a lawn can make supporting these pollinators by cutting back on the mowing. Between 1980 and 2013, every square kilometre in the UK lost an average of 11 species of bee and hoverfly, so the dense patchwork of lawns provided by British gardens really can throw our pollinators a lifeline. We just have to let the flowers bloom.”

“With COVID-19 restrictions in place, many people are finding some solace in their gardens,” Ian Dunn, Plantlife’s CEO, commented. “Observing up close like never before wild flowers and the wildlife they attract. After a mild winter, spring has been superb for flowers like dandelions and daisies and, as tempting as it might be to get the mower out while on lockdown, these results highlight in bold the botanical jewels that reward patience. Parking the mower can be the best decision people can make this May as Every Flower Counts at the end of the month will show.”

Taking part in Plantlife’s is Every Flower Counts is strikingly simple:

1. Simply leave your mower in the shed for No Mow May and let the flowers grow.

2. From 23rd May to 31st May take part in Every Flower Counts by counting the number of flowers in a random square metre of your lawn. The animation here shows what to do.

3. Enter your counts on the website and instantly receive your very own Personal Nectar Score, showing how much nectar is being produced by the flowers on your lawn and how many bees it can support.