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Why you need to put away your lawn mower for May

Analysis: No Mow May allows native plants to recover and provide ecosystem support for other plants, pollinators and nature - Dr Paul Holloway is a Lecturer in the Department of Geography and a Principal Investigator in the Environmental Research Institute at University College Cork. 

The No Mow May movement was initially started by Plantlife, an international conservation charity based in the UK working towards the protection and restoration of plants and fungi. The need for such a movement was clear; there has been a 97% decline in wildflower meadows in the UK since the 1930s. While long-term figures in Ireland are harder to come by, the trend has undoubtedly been similar.

The idea is simple: you leave your lawn to go 'wild' during the month of May, it provides an opportunity for native plants to recover and establish themselves, which then provides ecosystem support for other plants, pollinators, and nature.

What about the other 11 months?

Any movement hoping to gain traction needs a clear message and often a catchy phrase. No Mow May delivers on that front. But considering the complex lifecycle of many of our pollinators, particularly butterflies and moths, should we be leaving our lawns unmown earlier or even later?

If lawns are constantly cut throughout the year, the larvae, caterpillars, and cocoons of these insects will be destroyed, meaning the pollinators never reach it to the final stage of their life cycle. Moreover, these pollinators play an important role in the wider ecosystem, as food for several of our resident and migrant bird species.

Another recent EPA report identified that migrant birds, such as barn swallows and warblers, are arriving here earlier on average each year, sometimes as early as March. This is before the emergence of many insects, caterpillars, and moths which can result in a lack of food for these birds, impacting their fitness and capacity to breed.

No Mow April does not quite roll off the tongue so elegantly, but it raises an important point. The aims of other monthly initiatives, such as Veganuary (not eating meat in January), Go Sober for October (no alcohol in October), or Movember (grow a moustache in November to raise awareness for men’s health) are aimed at supporting long-term changes in lifestyle and health. Just as you would not be encouraged to drink your monthly alcohol intake on November 1st, or eat a triple-decker burger on February 1st, neither do you have to cut the lawn on June 1st.

The use of green space to support other important considerations such as physical activity, mental wellbeing, and socialisation is obviously of paramount importance. But even maintaining a small area of unmown lawn all year round can have substantial positive impacts to the local biodiversity. To borrow a well-known seasonal phrase from the Dog's Trust, a lawn is for life and not just for May.