There seem to be two distinct and diverse views as to what should be done about the grass in Fairfield’s orchards. The first group would like both orchards to be mown regularly and to look like bowling greens. The second group would like the grass to be left for nature to look after and not to be cut ever.
So, as we are so frequently directed by the government, we will ‘follow the science’!
Grassland habitats are often excellent for invertebrates; particularly for species which feed on coarse grasses. While nettles are renowned for being the larval food-plant of several large and colourful butterflies such as peacock, small tortoiseshell, red admiral and comma. Rank grassland is also likely to provide good cover for small mammals such as wood mice, rabbits and field voles, which in turn may attract hunting kestrels and owls. This habitat may also be valuable foraging habitat for frogs, toads and newts breeding in nearby ponds.
However, grassland needs to be cut (or grazed, not sadly an option in a housing area!) regularly to maintain interest and without such management it will be lost to scrub and eventually secondary woodland.
Fairfield is following the advice of ecologists and environmentalists. This is that there should be regular mowing, 4 to 6 times a year, for the high use path areas and less frequently in other areas. Several new pathways have been developed, winding through the trees, encouraging exploring (and facilitating social distancing!). There are plans to plant wildflowers in parts of the grassland to add interest and variety.
As the grassland in the orchards is under our apple trees, it does need to be cut prior to apple-picking time, to give access to the trees and to the windfalls.
Further professional advice suggested that staggering the cutting, and also leaving some marginal areas to remain uncut or be cut on rotation every 3 to 5 years, ensures that there are always refuge areas for invertebrates and other animals immediately following cutting. These species are then better able to re-colonise the cut areas as the grass begins to grow again. Also, having some areas which are cut annually and some areas which are cut less frequently creates a greater diversity of conditions which will thus provide habitat for a greater diversity of species.
Our regular articles about Fairfield’s orchards and wildlife are contributed by Penny Daffarn, a parish councillor with a particular interest in Fairfield’s green spaces – especially the orchards.