Meadow management 

Species rich grasslands are important for many insects, birds and amphibians and many areas are managed as meadows in nature reserves and other open spaces. Also in the recent past the mowing regime has been relaxed on areas which were regularly mown in the past creating new areas of long grassland.

It is not simply enough to leave these areas unmanaged as they would quite quickly deteriorate. If grassland is not managed it tends to be taken over by brambles and eventually scrub. Management can consist of a number of options, the commonest being burning, grazing or mowing. As burning is no longer generally acceptable for environmental and safety reasons and is also detrimental to many species (e.g. reptiles) and grazing is often not feasible on many sites (especially in urban areas), mowing is often the best option. 

Generally mowing should be carried out in late summer or early autumn (after the flowering season when the seeds had the chance to set) at a height of approx. 10 to 15cm. The cuttings should be raked off either into piles on site to provide additional habitat or removed from site. If they are taken off site they should be used as hay (e.g. for animal feed) or taken to suitable green waste disposal facilities.  This is done to keep the fertility of the soil low. In high fertility soils the sward tends to be taken over by fast growing species such as nettles and amenity grasses. In lower fertility soils everything grows slowly and therefore more species thrive leading to a more diverse sward. 

The importance of timing and specialisation 

Many grounds maintenance con tractors are not set up for this type of work and clients find it difficult to meet the timing on specifications of grassland management. For large sites agricultural contractors maybe the answer but for small areas (2 or 3 hectares or less) they are often not available. Also access to many small sites is impossible with large agricultural machinery. 

Complete Ecology are well set up to take on these type of contract. Using a mixture of compact tractor mounted hay cutters, flails and rakes, pedestrian mowers and with hand held strimmers we have experience of managing many meadows where other contractors have been unable or unwilling to carry out the work.

Case studies: