A shift in emphasis

The once cherished routine of mowing great swathes of amenity grassland is slipping away. North Lanarkshire Council epitomises this shift, and has been pressing ahead with the creation of a series of trial wildflower areas within high profile public parks. It’s an idea which has caught the public eye and proved very popular. It’s also great news for pollinators. 

The project covers three well known Country Parks.  At Strathclyde, Drumpellier and Palacerigg the progress has been impressive. This is particularly so when you acknowledge that all three sites are very different in nature, and clearly require individually tailored management techniques.

Just off the M74, at Strathclyde Park, in a site covering around 3.3 acres, the approach advocated was to turn over an area of amenity grassland and with the aid of a local farmer create a fine tilth which would provide a suitable base for sowing a rich meadow seed mix. Conscious that the perception of wildflower meadows in their early stages isn’t always positive the council not only invested in some temporary signage to explain the changes, but retained an unploughed zone adjacent to the path for regular mowing, and in doing so created a zone accessible to local park users who wished to walk or run on a softer surface. 

One benefit of this compromise was that it made acceptance of the suite of changes a deal more likely. The breadth of the zone was also carefully calculated to best suit the cutting width of the machinery the council regularly used to mow grasslands.

A mix of annual and perennial seeds have been sown. The eye-catching annuals are intended in part to deliver ‘a winning show’ in the first year whilst the biennial/perennial mix forms part of a longer-term strategy to give bees and butterflies a ‘get nectar-rich quick’ mix. Yellow rattle seed will be added (as will additional plug plants) to the site to keep potentially dominant grasses in check. This is good news for pollinators and promises a calm oasis for people to enjoy.

For those curious to know what has been sown then it will be of interest to learn that that the more damp sections of the site will include creeping buttercup, swathes of cuckoo flower, meadowsweet, sneezewort and the ever-popular ragged robin. 

At Drumpellier Country Park, near Coatbridge, four areas covering just over four acres are being transformed. The sites here tend to be drier than those at Strathclyde Park and thus a prcentage of ‘dry land’ flower seed was proposed which included kidney vetch, lady’s bedstraw and viper’s bugloss. A lot of the grass is very fine with a high percentage of red fescue. The area is already known to support a number of wildflower species including yarrow, self heal, and creeping buttercup and as at Strathclyde yellow rattle seed will also be introduced to the site. 

Interestingly there is an area directly adjacent to a railway line which is already fairly species rich with occasional young trees. However, the addition of Sessile Oak and Hazel will increase the range and the council’s intention is that the strip is supplemented with various woodland plants including red campion, woodruff, and bluebells.

Plots of land at Palacerigg Country Park are also being tackled. Here an area of rough damp grassland was dominated by the soft rush Juncus effusus. Some careful strimming has created multiple pockets for fresh planting and it looks likely that the council will use pots of wildflowers to ensure they are tall enough to cope within the surrounding ‘towering’ rushes. The majority of the planting will take place near to the path to give greatest visual impact for park visitors. Species will include an attractive mix of meadowsweet, devil’s-bit scabious, flag iris, meadow buttercup, water mint, and marsh marigold.

Trees will feature in the plans here too.  A tree-lined avenue shading the diagonal path running through a drier area of the park will boast a wildflower border below the trees and include primrose, red campion and bulbs such as bluebells, wood anemones, and snowdrops. 

It is often said that transport corridors often offer opportunities to carry out some pollinator friendly planting.  Alongside Cumbernauld’s A8011 Glasgow Road a relaxed mowing regime has been implemented.  The edge of the road will now mirror roadside verges on the M80 where it has been observed that the verges are frequently botanically rich with many sporting ox-eye daisies, meadow buttercups, ragged robin, and cow parsley. Understandably safety concerns remain foremost alongside this busy road, hence all of the plants proposed are low-growing species in order to maintain good sightlines for motorists and pedestrians.

Communicating this shift in sentiments and emphasis in managing greens spaces is important. Changing any local authority grassland management scheme comes with challenges around perception and concern that ‘cost-cutting’ is driving an abandonment of sites and previous management practices.

Temporary signs were employed across the sites explaining the vital benefits of the wildflower meadow for nature. This ensued that the council encountered very little opposition to the meadows, indeed it seems that increasingly residents favour making space for nature in their local patch. Many people stopped to read the signs and discuss the meadows, and enthusiasm for the new steps was high. Without that informative approach the council could have been grappling with anxious resident’s concerns. 

Another smart Lanarkshire move was encouraging the involvement of enthusiastic local volunteers and school children. These relationships have been vital in progressing this work and spreading details of the rationale behind change.  Moreover, involving volunteers and youth should provide a strong foundation for the future.

Recently the UN COP15 summit saw around 200 countries vote to protect 30% of our land and oceans by 2030. Widely featured in the media, it’s an optimistic announcement in the struggle to provide a less erratic outlook for nature. Those global aspirations will ultimately include many local actions, and projects like those in North Lanarkshire’s are both impressive and meaningful. Quick local fixes perhaps, but delivering long term benefits for sure.