Wild flower trend on the increase

Park professionals warn that planting wild flower meadows to cut back mowing will not cut costs.

Local authorities are increasingly turning to wild flower meadows to decrease mowing and increase biodiversity.

But parks professionals have warned that the move, if done properly, will not necessarily bring cost cuts. Maintenance contractors may need to invest in new machinery, for example, and ensure operatives have the right skills.

Consultant and Parks Agency director David Lambert said: "We see it happening across the country. My concern is that the wildlife benefits of less mowing are a smokescreen for reduced spending. Managing wild flower meadows is a costly business - it's a form of gardening. You're storing up problems for the future. Before you know it, you have weeds like docks and nettles. It's not a cheap option and it shouldn't be viewed as one."

However, contractor Enterprise said while its customers often ask for suggestions of areas that can be turned into wild flower meadows, their reasons are not always financial". "Sometimes it is about offering a pleasant display for the public and a natural habitat for wildlife. We do not anticipate it affecting business opportunities and we would work closely with clients to offer alternative maintenance solutions for such areas."

Parks consultant Dr Sid Sullivan agreed that there has been increasing interest in wild flower areas in public parks. "There's an argument that it's cheaper," he added. "But if you factor in the costs there is little difference - you need new equipment, you need expertise. You don't just get a wild flower meadow from a packet of seeds.

"They are not cheap unless you do what some councils have done and stop mowing the grass. That lacks finesse. You would also discourage people from using the parks for sport, for example, which flies in the face of Government policy."

Sullivan also said councils should consider the increased risks to asthma and hayfever sufferers. Longer grass hiding litter and dog mess is also perceived as a problem by consultants.

- In Northampton, residents have taken it on themselves to cut the grass in public areas, leading contractor Enterprise - now owned by Amey - to bring in extra machinery and staff.

The company said the situation was caused by grass growing quicker than normal. An Amey spokeswoman added: "We received some comments from residents indicating that our grass cutting hadn't been up to the required standards and areas had become overgrown.

"We are in the process of cutting the overgrown areas and are closely monitoring the situation to ensure grass is kept at a suitable level."

Blooming stoke Switching to meadows

One of the most ambitious projects is Blooming Stoke with Stoke-on-Trent City Council consulting on turning eight of its green spaces into wild flower meadows, working alongside Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.

The project has been funded through the SITA Trust's Enriching Nature Programme, via the Landfill Communities Fund, and the meadows will only need to be cut three times each year.

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