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Hertfordshire County Council

Why do we not always keep grass tightly mown and ‘tidy’?

Cutting grass less often is a very simple change in management that can make a real difference to wildlife.
Areas which are less frequently used by the public can often be mown just once each year in the early autumn. This creates habitat for flowers and insects, and if it’s well-located, it makes the whole site look more interesting too. In some places cutting can even take place less than once a year. Long grass left through the winter is excellent for insects.
It’s particularly good to do this along existing features like hedgerows. This protects what is there already, and helps build a corridor of natural habitat.

Introducing native wild flowers

Years of regular mowing leaves little variety of flowers growing in a grassy area. Planting new wild flower seed adds colour and attracts wildlife when grass is allowed to grow long.
Cutting the grass late in the year allows plants to flower and set seed, but long grass can easily dominate in some places. With the right seeds added, the same place can be full of colour throughout the summer, and excellent habitat for insects.
The best way to do this is to break up the surface, exposing bare soil, then scatter the seed and roll the ground. It may look messy to start with, but within a few years the benefits will be clear.

What happens to grassland if you leave it uncut?

Grassland needs to be cut just to remain as it is. Left to itself, taller plants and then bushes will quickly take over.
The longer this natural process continues, the harder it becomes to reverse.

Grassland management techniques – cutting and grazing

Grass needs to be managed just to remain as it is. This can be done by cutting or grazing. Cutting works best on small sites and grazing can be better on large sites.
Cutting is a really flexible option. Depending on the needs of the site, you can change the timing, the frequency, the area and the height of the cut. Cutting for conservation is best delayed until plants have had a chance to set seed.
It’s also vital that the cuttings are removed. This helps any fragile plants to survive and prevents soil fertility increasing. High soil fertility tends to reduce the variety of plants in an area.
Grazing is more traditional and more sustainable – it produces meat as an end product. It’s the best way to maintain interesting grasslands, full of variety, because of the way animals eat selectively. As animals need fencing and regular checks, it also needs much more commitment. It’s more difficult on smaller sites, where it can be harder to accommodate the needs of all site users.
When grazing, we need to think very carefully about how many animals we need, and for how long. Grazing too little or too much can both be a problem, either by allowing large plants to dominate or by creating too much bare soil.
Grazing cows returned to Chorleywood Common in 2009 after a long gap. Bringing back grazing here benefits the wildlife on the site and makes its management more sustainable in the long term.

Cows and people

Cows are fantastic land management tools. They’re traditional, sustainable and effective, and they can add real character to a site. Yet until recently they had largely disappeared from Hertfordshire.
We are now trying hard to reintroduce grazing to important sites in the county. Unfamiliarity can cause people to be concerned about bringing cows back into the landscape, but with good planning it shouldn’t be a problem.
On a public site, the breed and individual animals should always be chosen for their good temperament. On site information boards will provide advice on how to behave around cattle, in particular the need to keep dogs on leads. All these precautions make the risk of physical danger from the animals extremely low.
A well-planned grazing scheme may also include a trial period to give people a chance to get to know the animals. Access should never be affected, and on larger sites it can be possible to restrict grazing to certain areas, helping people who don’t want to walk amongst cattle to continue to use the site.

Walking dogs around cows

The countryside is a great place to exercise dogs, but it’s the duty of the owner to ensure that their dog isn’t a nuisance or a danger to farm animals. It’s also safer when walking amongst cows for your dog to be under close control.
Even if you’re used to letting your dog run around a particular field, you should take extra care when cows are grazing. On council-owned sites, these animals are introduced for part of the year to help manage grassland. They will have been specifically chosen for their good temperament, but it is still dangerous for the cows, the dog and anyone in the field if cows are chased by a dog.
This doesn’t mean you need to avoid the cows completely. Just keep your dog under close control when walking through a field that contains cows.
In the unlikely circumstances that you and your dog are chased by cows, don’t risk your own safety trying to protect your dog. Let your dog go – it will be able to run away.

Why are you allowed to put up a fence on common land?

Fencing can be a vital management tool, in particular by allowing a common to be managed traditionally using grazing animals. This keeps the common in the best possible condition in the long term.
Fencing may be temporary, or if it’s permanent, your right of access to the area will be maintained by establishing an appropriate number of entrance points.
Fencing was erected in 2012 around part of Bricket Wood Common. This meant the management of this valuable site could be improved using grazing animals. Gates were included along all existing paths to make sure that access to the common was not restricted.

Why are you cutting down those bushes?

Bushes often grow when grasslands are left alone for too long. Removing scrub gives the grass and wild flowers a chance to return.
There is so little special grassland in Hertfordshire that every piece is valuable. Scrub is much more common, and if it’s left untouched it can completely take over. Once the number of bushes has been reduced, mowing or grazing helps grass and flowers to come back.
Even so, many creatures like the combination of scrub and grass, so it’s always good to leave some bushes. It’s best to cut down a small amount each year. As some will grow back, this creates a nice mixture of bushes of different ages.
Like grassland but on a longer timescale, scrub needs to be managed regularly just to remain as it is. Scrub management can involve anything from hand-held tools to machinery attached to tractors.

Why don’t you plant some trees?

Trees aren’t right everywhere. There are special grasslands in Hertfordshire which have taken centuries to develop. These places are much more valuable than woodlands because of their rarity.
Open spaces are not only important for wildlife. They can also be attractive, and provide space for all kinds of recreational activities.
Of course, there are many places where tree planting makes sense. Trees are fantastic things that can be beautiful and full of wildlife. We make every effort to encourage tree planting in the right places.

Contact the Countryside Management Service

01992 588433

Countryside Management Service Office (Car Park H)
Environment Department (CHG001)
County Hall
SG13 8DN