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And talking about mowing

Last time I spoke about haying and the delicate balance between harvesting a crop and protecting nesting birds. Today, I would like to reach out to the rest of the readership and offer some advice to help us protect the beauty and functionality of our properties, with an eye to simultaneously protecting wildlife.

But first, why should we care? Because wildlife is more than just an attractive feature of the landscape. It represents a complex web of life, where each piece is dependent on the other. Flowers bloom so bugs can eat and, in so doing, pollinate the plants. The plants then provide food for insects and herbivores, which are food for other animals. So without the plants and the insects, we really wouldn’t have food for ourselves, nor would most wild things exist.

Whatever we can do to help insects survive is exponentially more valuable than practically anything else we do to help nature!

Let’s talk about small urban yards first. What difference can this tiny patch make? Well, careful planting of native species can greatly enhance the natural value of your plot. Additionally, allowing some wildness along the edges of your garden adds even more value. At the end of the season, place fallen leaves on the soil between your plants and bushes, to provide overwintering insects somewhere to hide. As the leaves decompose, this also adds nutrients to your soil and prevents weeds from growing – bonus. Likewise, leave the seed heads on flowers for winter birds and don’t cut down the stalks so overwintering insects can again have somewhere to hide.

If your yard is bigger, 0.5 acres or larger, consider leaving part of it to nature. Create your own meadow and let nature choose the plants. This way, the balance is created for you and the insects and animals which occupy natural habitats will come. A manicured expanse of lawn may look pretty, but it adds little value to the natural landscape. In my neighbourhood, several households have chosen to only mow part of their plots, leaving the rest to nature. Clusters of trees, pollinator gardens and artificial but managed ponds add significant value for wildlife.

If you are an industrial or commercial landowner, the same principles apply. Do you really have to mow every inch of your land? The public would appreciate a safe and attractive entrance to the buildings AND a more nature-friendly landscape on the rest of the land.

Municipalities, both upper and low tier, are responsible for roadside mowing. This is a challenging balance for them, as they have to consider nature, but more importantly, safety and the integrity of the infrastructure itself. I understand the challenge, but too often, I think municipalities mow areas too wide and at the wrong time of year.

I travel widely at this time of year, conducting breeding bird surveys and frequently have to use the 400 series highways. I am shocked at the massive areas they often clear during the height of the breeding season. A swath on both shoulders and in the median can measure over 300+ feet in width for tens of kilometres. Why is it necessary to do this? No cars need to access the median, so why mow it? The shoulders need to be maintained but do the mowers have to go 30 or 40 or more feet off the shoulder and buffers?

One unfortunate side impact of this mowing is the tons of litter (e.g. plastics) are shredded by the mowers, and we all know how bad that is! In our own area, municipalities still cut too much vegetation, in my opinion, and I would encourage all to reconsider when and how much they cut.

One simple thing to consider is simply to minimize the footprint of the mowed area in spring and summer when birds are nesting. In the autumn, when pollinators are very active, don’t cut the roadside unless necessary for safety, and then again minimize the footprint. Doing these simple things can make our environment better and healthier. Please do what you can to help nature!

Geoff Carpentier is a published author, ecotour guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line and on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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