Nikki Toxopeus, Yellow Point Ecological Society
First published in Take 5 – May 2021
No Mow May is fun and a lazy way to start the summer and is a fantastic way to help the birds and the bees. It is also something we all have the skills to do and it will really help all the wildlife that depends on the creatures and plants in our gardens, meadows, and roadside ditches. If we delay mowing until after the end of May, we may be surprised how quickly Nature responds. So, is there a patch you can protect?
Spring is the season of breeding and feeding young. Birds need their nests undisturbed, and they need bugs and caterpillars to feed their young for a few weeks. Bird feeders do not cut it for the baby birds. There used to be a lot more food for the birds but insects are in decline. Remember when there were many more bugs? All over our windshields?
The Yellow Point Ecological Society supports the vision of the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Nature Conservancy of Canada to build a network of interconnected wild yards, hedgerows, fields, rights of way and roadsides that can be left undisturbed during the spring breeding season (and the fall too!).
If we can make our backyards more pollinator friendly and chat to our neighbours to get them on board with our “new look”, we can have a big impact. Citizen science done by the British organization Plantlife shows that the simple act of No Mow May can increase the number of bees in your yard tenfold. Doug Tallamy’s book Nature’s Best Hope gives wonderful advice on the native species we should plant to turn our back yards into refuges for wildlife. There is a growing body of knowledge and native plant supplies on Vancouver Island. The Nanaimo Area Land Trust has started a Pollinators Paradise project, to promote the use of native pollinator-friendly plants and other ways to support pollinators. They are launching their project web page this month – so watch this space.
The Ministry of Transportation is also part of the solution. They are responsible for keeping the vegetation within 1.8 m of the road below 25 cm high, for traffic safety. In May, the Contractors are usually busy cleaning up the gravel and controlling the dust along the roadsides and do not start mowing until June. They delay mowing so they only mow once a season (and save the taxpayers’ money). Often, they cannot mow for most of the summer due to fire hazards, so the vegetation is brushed or mowed in August or September. If rights of way were planted with low, resilient shrubs and herbaceous native plants which do not need mowing, this might also keep invasive species from dominating. The Contractor I spoke to said he had worked in areas with healthy ecosystems, where the native vegetation grew in the rights of way and kept the invasive species away. Invasive plant species do not suit native wildlife but that is a topic for another day.
For now, it would be great to grow the support for No Mow May. It is an easy way to help protect wildlife and their habitats during the sensitive breeding season. If we must mow, we should mow as high as possible. It will be better for the lawn, and the ground dwelling bees. Perhaps we can create refuges in spaces away from the lawn. In this way we can mitigate the biodiversity crisis and save our money, time, and energy.
Canadian Wildlife Federation Grow It, Don’t Mow it: https://cwf-fcf.org/en/explore/pollinators/grow-it/
Why ‘No Mow May’ could be a boon for Toronto’s bumble bee populations https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/no-mow-may-toronto-1.5568446
No Mow May – How to get ten times more bees on your lock down lawn https://www.plantlife.org.uk/uk/about-us/news/no-mow-may-how-to-get-ten-times-more-bees-on-your-lockdown-lawn
Nanaimo Area Land Trust: https://www.nalt.bc.ca/