Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Peterborough and the wrong sort of grass(land)

Overgrown grass
Overgrown grass.

If recent weather is anything to go by, we're in for a glorious summer.

Peterborough is a city-by-the-countryside. You don't have to travel far in any direction to be confronted by glorious landscapes and areas of breath-taking beauty. Much effort is made to hold onto the gorgeous natural surroundings that we already have, with Peterborough City Council working in partnership with a number of agencies to ensure that we protect our beautiful landscape for generations to come.

Sensitive town planning has also meant that even our more urban areas are lush and green, with many of us just stone's throw from either a public park or, at the very least, a luscious grassy verge.

But many people in the Ortons are unhappy, because, it turns out, 

there really is such a thing at too much green!

Last year, the grass grew very slowly (I think I only had to mow the lawn once the entire summer!). This year, lots of rain and lots of sun has encouraged grass to grow long, tall and thick. If you are fortunate enough to have a garden, you'll be all too aware of this as you've probably had to mow your lawn several times already this season. 

Unfortunately, however, the austerity cuts that we're all experiencing continue to have a very negative impact on some of our public services. Those things our City Council used to organise for us without us really noticing have become painfully obvious for their infrequency. One of these is grass-cutting.

When grass is cut infrequently there can be negative consequences:
  • Everyone understands the importance of picking up after their dog, but owners find this difficult to do when grass is several inches high.
  • Tics love long grass and can spread diseases. You or your dog or cat are far more likely to pick up a tic in long grass.
  • It's more difficult to pick up litter when it's hidden in long grass, where it does unseen and long-term damage to the ground underneath.
  • We want our children to play safely outdoors. If the long grass conceals dog mess, tics and rubbish it's not safe.
  • And it looks a mess.

"I have never seen such a mess" - Peterborough resident. 

A heated discussion on social media on the topic of Peterborough City Council's grass-cutting policy (that the Council will cut the grass eight times a year) has led some residents to speculate that the Council's decision to cut the city's grass less frequently than in previous years has been made for 'environmental reasons'. 

I was pretty sure this wasn't the case (in fact, a resident raised the matter at a recent meeting of Orton Longueville Parish Council and a representative of AMEY, the company contracted by Peterborough City Council to cut the grass, confirmed that the reduction in grass cuts around the city has got nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with saving money).

To give you the right information, I asked Peterborough Green Party Coordinator Roger Proudfoot whether it's true that overgrown verges and recreation fields make for good habitats where nature will thrive.

“This is wholly inaccurate”, he said.

“Areas that were once used for public recreation can be turned into areas where wildlife will prosper. However, this is only true when there is a long-term plan to manage the grass in the right way. Simply leaving it uncut does not benefit wildlife.”

Read more in Roger's Peterborough Telegraph articles Greener Spaces for People and Wildlife and Let's Aim for the Best of Both Worlds.

Roger Proudfoot
Peterborough Green Party's Roger Proudfoot
He knows the difference between 'grassland' and 'uncut grass'.

This is important to note:

Amenity grass is not grassland

As our wildlife in England is in peril, with up to 60% of our native species in decline, more well-managed grassland is desperately needed. Grassland can contain as many as 10 more species of animals and plants and up to 50 times more individuals and can provide a haven for insects, moths, butterflies, hunting grounds for frogs and newts and a food source for birds and mammals such as hedgehogs.

Unfortunately, amenity grass is of low value to wildlife as it simply does not provide the right habitat nor does it contain the right nutrients required for wildlife to thrive. Left to its own devices, the 'wrong kind' of grass will dominate and the wild flowers that are necessary for wildlife to benefit will fail to thrive. There should also be wild flower seeding programmes – the assumption that a beautiful biodiversity will simply appear if grass is not cut is false.

Wildflower meadow
This is what a wild flower meadow can look like.

Uncut grass in Orton Goldhay
Whereas this is what un-managed, un-cut grass in Orton Goldhay looks like.
(Picture credit: Orton Goldhay resident Dermot O'Shea) 

(In case you're wondering, the strips of grass either side of the path have been mowed to make it easier to pick up any litter that may be dropped or blown there by the notorious Peterborough Wind.)

So what's the way forward?

Peterborough Green Party is calling on Peterborough City Council to introduce a well-defined long-term grass-cutting strategy through consultation with local communities and Parish Councils that keeps recreation grass short while encouraging grassland in non-amenity grass areas (such as verges) to thrive.

“Peterborough residents have grown used to seeing neat grass verges”, says Roger. “However, properly-maintained grasslands are far more beautiful. We urge Peterborough City Council to focus resources on maintaining recreational amenity grass and to begin a programme to turn verges and areas not required for recreation or dog-walking into properly-managed grasslands. 

So there you have it. The grass in the Ortons has been left to grow to save money. And not cutting it doesn't help wildlife. However, if Peterborough City Council would like our help to create beautiful managed grasslands where wildlife will thrive, we're ready and willing to help! 

Update 9th July 2016

Following what can only be described as a 'public outcry' and a classic front page headline in the Peterborough Telegraph (I wonder how long the editor has been sitting on that one), Peterborough City Council has issued a statement in which it says that the grass cutting policy for Peterborough will be reviewed. That's fair enough. The statement also mentions several areas in our city (none in Orton - boo!) that have been identified as 'biodiversity areas'. These are managed as such and are subject to a different cutting regime. Unsurprisingly, we like this a lot, but why are there no biodiversity areas in Orton where the infrequency of grass cuts recently has made residents so happy? Do you know what, I'm going to ask.

Headline reads A Pain in the Grass


  1. Well said Julie. I think the council and its contractor have crossed their fingers and hoped for a hot dry summer and then they just can't cope with what happens when it rains. Everyone with a lawn knows exactly what happens!

  2. I've been surprised that at no point in what's become a very public debate has anyone talked about the weather. When it rains a lot, and then the sun shines a lot, it rains a lot, and then the sun shines a lot grass grows! Supermarkets constantly analyse weather forecasts to make sure they put items that people are more likely to buy under certain weather conditions on prominent display. Yet the council, whose responsibility is to keep on top of green over-growth, sets a fixed policy for grass cutting and they crosses its fingers in the hope that ideal conditions for slow grass growth will prevail! I can't help but wonder who wasn't listening properly during their biology lessons at school. Nature does not adhere to council policies... you would think the councillors who set the grass-cutting policy would understand that at least. It's definitely time for a new approach and I believe the 'short amenity grass where appropriate, managed meadow where appropriate' is a winner.

  3. Spot on Julie. I am hopeful a more sensible regime will prevail from all this and I hope they will involve the right people too.

  4. Thanks, Roger. I reckon this could be a double-whammy. More beautiful, natural spaces for residents. Less costly grass-cutting for Peterborough City Council.