Last week, Monty Don, lead presenter of the BBC gardening television series Gardeners’ World urged gardeners across the country not to cut their grass, but just let it grow. A messier lawn creates a much better environment for insects and little creatures, which in turn create a much better environment for us.
This got me thinking about what that might mean on a larger scale, for farms or estates responsible for hundreds of acres of land. When I took over Ewhurst Park last year, I encountered a collection of closely cropped, neat fields. The sheep had done all the lawn mowing for me! But my vision for Ewhurst is something a bit messier, a bit wilder and a bit more alive.
And so I was interested to hear what benefits letting the grass grow can bring, according to Monty. Firstly, he says that cutting lawn is “injurious” for wildlife. By leaving grass alone to grow, you encourage wildlife to enter your garden, contributing to insect life, small mammals, invertebrates and reptiles. He’s right that our lawns are indeed a much under-appreciated natural habitat for all kinds of wildlife.
I read that not cutting grass as short, or as frequently, can allow grasses and other plants such as plantain to seed and provide food for birds. With grass uncut, insect life and seeds are able to thrive, sustaining the large appetites of birds all over. The moisture provided by uncut grass can also allow amphibian life to flourish, providing sustenance and shelter from incoming prey.
Secondly, he makes the point that cutting grass can be bad for the environment. It’s true that the use of petrol mowers unleashes fossil fuels in the atmosphere. For farmers with many acres of grassland to manage, it seems foolish to wipe out the potential climate gains from techniques such as regenerative farming to keep the grass orderly.
I was encouraged to see many gardeners across the country pointing out that there are several clean-energy alternatives to mowing the lawn with petrol. He also made the point that noise pollution is often an unwelcome side effect of excessive mowing, something we have become increasingly aware of as we spend time locked down.
Monty’s comments made me think about what it means to look after a piece of land. I want Ewhurst Park to be a place where sustainable farming can prosper, but where wildlife is still part of the picture. I want to pursue a regenerative approach to agriculture, which means a mixture of crops and animals, all farmed in combination to keep the goodness in the soil and enrich the environment.
But I’m also interested in rewilding – in bringing back native and heritage breeds that might not have the commercial value of modern cows and sheep, but are a vital piece of our landscape that has been missing for many years.
It might make for a messier estate, but it will certainly be a livelier one. Not everyone believes you can mix regenerative methods with rewilding, but I want Ewhurst to make the case for both. We have the opportunity to restore a patch of Britain’s ancient landscape in the middle of Hampshire. I don’t know exactly how it’ll turn out, but one thing’s for sure, it’s going to be a bit messy!
Read more of Mandy’s articles in Sublime Magazine