Leeds Council has given Otley in Bloom and the Rotary Club of Otley, permission to plant a mixed range of wild flowers on the steep bank to the northwest of the Ilkley Road underpass this autumn. This will entail us stripping back small amounts of turf, turning it over and reseeding the exposed soil with Yorkshire native-type wildflower seeds. By turning the turf we will ensure that the existing plants are likely to survive along with these new wildflowers.
What we should see is a larger number of local flowering wildflowers during next summer and more bees and butterflies in the area for a longer period during the spring/summer/autumn. This will increase the area’s biodiversity.
The land is already under a “restricted mow” schedule so it tends to look a bit shaggy all of the time and has started to show a range of natural wildflower plants including Red Sorrel, Sticklewort, Yarrow, Red Clover, Fox and Cubs and Autumn Hawklot as well as a fair few different grasses.
To aid the mowers we will place a series of small blue hearts (to indicate the area of restricted mowing) and a small wooden sign “Mow only in March & October”. More details and photos will follow as the project progresses.
Any problems or concerns please contact us at email@example.com
The year started well for our wildflower project at BT’s telephone exchange on Charles Street. The area that OiB and Wildlife Friendly Otley seeded last September showed some interesting plants developing. We marked out the zone that we wanted left alone and placed a sign at the entrance to the land in February. The plan, agreed with BT, was for just one mowing this first year in September.
Flowers started to appear not only in the seeded area but also in the rest of the site. By May, with bluebells and other wildflowers in abundance, the un-mowed garden was starting to look like the meadow-in-the-middle-of-the-town we hoped it would become.
By June some of the plants were over 4 feet tall and the place was buzzing with insects. Someone kicked over the sign that explained what we were trying to do, but given the stress of Covid we sort of understood that.
Then on 4th June the mowers came and cut the whole area.
Obviously this was a blow, particularly for the volunteers who had done the work. We discussed the situation with BT and learnt that their mowing contractor had tried to cut as high as possible. Looking forward, they will try to limit the mowing to March and late August. We have yet to see what survives into the autumn, when it will be time to decide what needs to be done to recover this.
At the start of 2020 OiB, Wildlife Friendly Otley and Otley 2030 were working together to provide Leeds Parks department with a guide on how to introduce more trees and wildflowers to Otley. We were especially interested in changing road verges from barren green grasses to more interesting wildflower areas which would offer friendly places for wildlife and reduce the carbon footprint of maintaining verges.
Leeds Parks found other areas of Leeds to plant up before Otley and then…. Covid struck. Despite this, the Otley organisations kept talking and looking for alternative groups to work with. It was with great excitement that we found that the BT telephone exchange on Charles Street was happy to let us intiate a wildflower meadow in their garden. We considered planting up the garden in the Spring but the weather had been beautiful and dry so we were concerned we would not be able to keep it watered, hence we let the Spring pass.
Autumn looked a better bet and so, in September, six socially-distanced members of OIB and WFO started with this roughly mown area.
Focusing on the front rectangle of grass we mowed the grass again, and again, and again. This allowed us to get down to the turf of the garden. Then we used a turf cutter to slice strips out which we flipped over. The addition of 0.5 kg of wildflower seed and about the same of dry sand scattered by hand over the newly exposed earth seemed to work well. Over the coming few days the British weather did the right sort of things and watered the seed in. Some of it will require colder weather to trigger germination.
We will sign-post the area to help guide the official mowers to cut the grass/wildflowers correctly. We will also put up a sign explaining what we have done so everyone can see how well or badly this is doing.
Otley in Bloom is asking the people of Otley, do you want the town verges to be made of wildflowers that look like this rather than just green grass?
The first town that took up this idea is Rotherham. They worked with a charity, Plantlife, to modify their mowing practice on a number of verges and spread local and brought-in wildflower seed to develop an amazing series of beautiful verges.
Working with Plantlife the team developed how to achieve this, ensuring good, safe sight-lines for cars while at the same time reducing the cost of mowing and providing better areas for insects to get access to a range of British wildflowers. The mowing programme changes to an early mow in March/April to give the flowers a chance to grow ahead of the grass and then is not mowed again until late in August/September once the flowers have shed their seeds.
If you want to know more about the details of how this is done then download this pdf from Plantlife. The downside seems to be that the verges will not look like a lawn for a period and may look a little untidy. The upside seems to be larger number of flowers for bees to work and better nature avenues for other animals. Plus it is more colourful and lower cost.