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Nitrogen Nightmare?

from our Nature and Wildlife Correspondent, Sally Worby

I was recently challenged by someone (as Environment Champion I must expect it!) No Mow May is a nightmare! My (two and a half acres) would turn into a jungle if I didn't get it cut!
(I can sympathise with that – Ed)

Where lawns are left uncut, native plants can flower – providing nectar for insects, set seed – providing nutrition for birds and the dense cover hides vulnerable slowworms, toads and myriad insects. No Mow May creates a mini nature reserve in your garden.

But how to manage the dense sward a mower can't?

Nitrogen is the problem! Mulched grass left on the lawn releases nitrogen promoting dense growth, removing cuttings after every mow helps. Planting yellow rattle can work miracles in just a year, it weakens grass providing room for less vigorous flowering plants.
(So the lesson is if you want to do a No Mow May next year, start planning now! Ed)

We can see the worrying effects of high nitrogen climbing our hedgerows wherever dog-activity adds nitrogen to the soil – cleavers (Galium aparine).

Cleavers are fast growing, rapid spreading, climbers that run-up and over other species smothering the slower growing elder, hawthorn and elm. Cleavers provide little food for insects and its cover is temporary; when it dies back in winter there are often gaps. Cleavers are poor substitutes for hedgerow.

Nettles are another nitrogen-lover but don't climb so are less competitive and nettles provide food for caterpillars of several species of native butterfly.

Picking up our dogs' poo can help intercept some of the nitrogen and removing cleavers can give the hedgerow access to light but nitrogen is the enemy, not No Mow!

Sally operates the Graceful Badger Forest School in Drayton Woods with Wilderwoods and Central Somerset Outdoor Learning Partnership. Check our on line Directory for more information.

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