Long Grass for Birds and Flowers
St. Elidyr’s Church, SA67 8JE
‘We wanted to make part of the churchyard into a natural, flowery space; to encourage wildlife and make it more attractive and interesting for visitors’.
Over the last ten years we have been gradually moving from short mown grass to long grass, whilst leaving key areas, such as around the church entrance, cut short.
The back area and the section to the left of the path went to long grass eight or nine years ago whilst the section by the tower changed two years ago.
The area to the left of the path became a bit neglected as we were not really managing to cut it at all. This was then cut back hard two years ago to bring it back under control.
In general these long grass areas were cut once a year in September and the cuttings were raked up and removed. In some years this cut was missed due to wet weather.
Harriet Carty came and visited us in May 2015 and identified several indicators of species-rich grassland which is a fantastic habitat and one which has been largely destroyed in the UK. She advised that we keep managing our long grass areas but increase the number of cuts so that the areas do not become coarse and tussocky again. Whilst the coarser, tussocky grassland which has been developing is good for some wildlife it is not as attractive or as special as flowery long grass and so it would be best to fine-tune the management in order to keep the flowery long grass.
We need to cut more than once a year and the ‘summer’ cut should be earlier than September. This will reduce the coarser grasses and plants such as hogweed and will also give us two or three summer months to get the cut done, thus reducing the chances of it being rained off. As well as this summer cut we need to introduce a second cut, either in autumn or early spring. We can then keep an eye on the grassland and, if it starts to get coarse again, could bring in a third cut. This is an exposed site, quite close to the sea and on high ground. Two cuts may well be enough.
We now plan to see how we get on with the two cuts; one in July or August (if July is wet) and then a further cut which will take place either in autumn (October) or else early spring (March). We will try two cuts and keep an eye out for signs that it is getting tussocky again. If this is happening then we will cut more frequently (July, October and March cuts).
Costs And Income
The areas of short grass within the churchyard are cut by a contractor. These are cut about ten times per year at a cost of £30 per cut.
The long grass areas are done by volunteers or neighbours and so are free. If this work was done by contractors, including raking up the cut grass, the cost would probably be comparable to the short grass cutting costs.
Results And Benefits
The long grass areas are full of flowers, insects and more birds have definitely been seen within the churchyard. Seed eaters like finches are particularly noticeable. Ancient grassland indicator plants include pignut, betony, orchids and burnet are present too.
Issues And Lessons Learnt
The area that got a bit neglected was then cut back very hard to get it under control and perhaps a little too enthusiastically! This patch is now covered in plantains and looks a little strange but the other plant species are still there too and after a year or two it should be looking attractive again.
Conclusions And Next Steps
We needed to get advice and fine tune our management in order to really achieve our aim. As well as advice from Harriet we have had a botanical survey done. Without this advice and small changes in management the long grass areas were starting to go to tussocky grassland with hogweed and bramble encroaching. With quite small changes in management we can reverse this trend.
Our next step is going to be a leaflet about the history and wildlife to encourage more visitors. We have a great wealth of historical information about the church already and could use the botanical survey and David’s bird list to supplement this.
Of the plants recorded in our survey we may include the following:
- Fibrous waxcap
- Quaking grass
- Siberian iris (although this is a garden escape it is a real feature of the site)
Caring for God’s Acre Action Pack Sheets
Section A sheet 2 Caring for Grassland
Section A sheet 3 Cutting Long Grass and Dealing with Grass Cuttings
Section D sheet3 Telling the Story – Interpretation
For the full plant list from this site see the attached: St Elidyrs – Plant list