New Wildflower Meadows for Totley
The Project Idea
During last year’s lockdown, when the grass verges of Totley went un-mown for weeks and even months, did you despair at the untidiness or was your heart lifted by the sight of flowers blooming amongst the grass and insects buzzing about in the foliage? Well, some Totley residents enjoyed the unaccustomed sight of nature taking its course, and felt disappointed when Amey’s mowers finally came along and reduced the lush vegetation to patches of brown scorched earth. From that experience an idea emerged – could we actually make some of Totley’s verges into permanent wildflower meadows, and see bees and butterflies flitting about alongside some of our streets? A new community group, Wildflowers of Totley, was born, with the aim of achieving just that.
Convincing the Council
We realised that it was both impractical and undesirable just to ask the Council to stop mowing the verges, or to mow them less frequently. They do this in some parts of Sheffield, alongside dual carriageways away from houses and where visibility for traffic is not an issue. In residential areas they are much more reluctant to take a ‘wilder’ approach, partly because of safety issues, partly because many residents wouldn’t like it, and partly because of the difficulty of contracting out a range of mowing regimes, rather then the current one-size-fits-all approach. So we had to find a way to start small, and to convince the Council that we had a manageable scheme.
Identifying the Areas
The other issue, which had certainly not occurred to me, is that not all patches of grass will happily convert themselves to wildflower meadows if simply left un-mown, or are mown only once or twice a year. It was Totley resident and ecologist Rebekah Newman, who joined the group, who advised that wildflower meadows are much easier to establish on ground with low fertility – if the soil is too fertile the grass will simply overwhelm all the other plants. We approached Friends of Gillfield Wood for support and they very kindly agreed to fund some soil sampling and testing of the various patches of grass we had identified as potentially suitable for wildflower planting.
This helped us narrow down the grassy shortlist to two areas: firstly, the patches of grass alongside Baslow Road adjacent to the Totley Grange estate, and secondly the meadows belonging to All Saints Church, off Totley Hall Lane. The Totley Grange verges are managed by Sheffield City Council and the church fields are managed by the church.
At Totley Grange we needed to get the support of residents to convince the Council to allow us to go ahead with the project. We delivered a survey to all the houses on the estate, and were delighted that the great majority, over 80 per cent, supported the idea. That meant that the Council was willing to give us a licence for one year to manage the large areas of grass alongside the main road. The Friends of Gillfield Wood once again stepped in to help, allowing the Wildflowers of Totley group to operate as a subgroup so that the licence can be issued to a constituted body. We held an open air event (with tea and cake!) for Totley Grange Residents on 13th June, to explain to people how we will establish the meadow and how it will be maintained, and to ask people to sign up to help with the work. We now have a group of about a dozen volunteers, who will help with the preparation, sowing and general maintenance.
All Saints Church
All Saints Church has also enthusiastically supported the idea, and will be setting aside a large area of their meadow furthest away from the church, for wildflower planting. Church members will work with the group to carry out the work involved. If the project is a success, they will consider extending the area set aside for wild planting.
How do you Establish and Maintain a Wildflower Meadow?
So what is involved in preparing and maintaining these areas for wildflowers? In August or September we will have to create up to 50 per cent bare ground, using a harrow, to make sure the wildflower seed can make contact with the ground and germinate successfully. Immediately after doing that, we will sow the seed, a native mixture including knapweed, field scabious, red campion and ox-eye daisy. Then in March or April next year we will need to mow the sites to remove lush grass growth, and take away the cuttings to prevent build up of fertility. Then we only mow again in August, September and October, removing the cuttings each time. We hope that throughout the Spring and Summer the flowers will be blooming and the insects buzzing!
Support and Volunteers Needed!
It is a lot of work, which is why we need as many volunteers as possible to help with the project. It will also cost money, both for the start-up costs of harrowing and seed, and for the annual mowing programme. We’ve put in an application for funding to the Graves Trust, and will be seeking other sources of funding as we progress the project. If our project is successful, we are hoping that the Council will take on the management in future years, and indeed set up and support similar projects throughout the city. They’ve recently declared a Nature Emergency, and this would be an ideal way for them to help nature and biodiversity in Sheffield.
Can you help us establish these wildflower meadows in our community? We’re keen for people to join us, even if it’s just for one-off events like helping to rake off and remove grass cuttings. But we’d also like to welcome more members to our group, to help manage the project, apply for funding, liaise with the Council and help with publicity.
If you’d like to help or for more information, contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org