Rewilding Reading

We are exploring a new approach to grass cutting in Reading.

Rewilding connects people back with nature. This is a good time to do it, when residents are walking and cycling more. Many people have urged us to make changes that improve things for wildlife in the town.

Rewilding of urban areas is being encouraged across the country. There are several national campaigns, like Rewilding Britain, the Blue Campaign, and the RHS programme to encourage wilding of urban gardens.

In 2018 the council declared a climate emergency, and, together with partners from all walks of life, we are working out what changes should be made to attempt to address this.

The Reading Climate Change Partnership consulted on the Reading Climate Emergency Strategy (RCES)  (closed 29th June). Within the ‘Nature’ theme of the strategy is a wide-ranging requirement to improve the urban environment for flora and fauna.

The rewilding project is part of the council’s new Biodiversity Action Plan, which was out for public consultation until 10th July 2020.

The plan is focused on promoting natural solutions to climate challenges, such as improving habitats to help wildlife and people adapt to the impacts of climate change. It sets out priority objectives and actions for the protection and enhancement of biodiversity within Reading. One of which is to review the mowing regime of highways verges to allow, where appropriate, more species-rich long grass in corridors along the highway.

In order to know what this ‘rewilding’ will look like, we need to experiment with our mowing regimes on the highway.

Are the changes permanent?

The changes this year are an experiment. Some verges will look wonderful because they are species-rich, and others will not, and we need know to which these are. The appearance will change over the course of the summer, and we need to know how. And, residents will either love it or hate it, or, most likely both, and we need to know where their preferences lie.

We are not making any permanent changes, and we can reintroduce mowing where rewilding does not ‘work’ either ecologically or visually.

We are continuing to mow most of the borough verges as normal. It may look long, but at present it only covers a relatively small area of Reading.

Where will the rewilding happen?

All verges in residential areas that are crossed regularly by driveways, and all small areas of grass will be mown. At present, the grass is growing very fast, so it is difficult to keep everything looking smart, but, later in the season, as the rate of growth slows, this will be addressed. The unmown areas will look cared for with a mown strip alongside roadways and footpaths, and desire lines cut through some of them to help with walking access.

We have not, at this stage, made any changes in the parks. The area of grassland left as conservation grass is unchanged. We will have another look at the parks at some stage, but, at present, we need to close-mow as much as possible, so that people have well-maintained space for outdoor exercise.

Rewilding update October 2020

All rewilding sites have now been cut. The method we are using is to collect all of the cuttings during mowing. Where grass and flower cuttings can be left safely on site, this is being done, so that insect eggs and larvae are not removed. Where it is not possible to leave grass piles, they are being carried away for composting.

Why do we mow in autumn?

Long grass competes out other species. The most effective way to encourage wildflowers in grass is to reduce soil fertility. This is done by repeatedly cutting grass and removing the cuttings from rewilded verges. The grass draws nutrients out of the soil, so, if the grass is cut and removed, nutrients are taken away and not returned to the soil.

If there is a significant reduction in ground nutrients over successive seasons, the result is shorter grass and greater species diversity. Over time, it should be possible to reduce the cutting regime from 10 cuts annually to 2 or 3 cut-and-collect mowings each season, and the grass remains relatively short, because growth is suppressed. As a result, there are also more wildflowers.

How will it benefit wildlife?

More diverse species – of both grass and flowers – feeds and provides cover for a wider range of insects. Habitat improvement is therefore a further by-product of several seasons of cut-and-collect mowing.

Tell us what you think of rewilding in Reading

Please tell us what you think. You can send us an email at let us know what you like or don’t like. We will try to take account of everyone’s views. We will review this at the end of the summer. Then we will make specific proposals that will guide what we do in future.

Look out for wildlife

Please let us know if you spot any unusual plants, insects or birds, and where they are, so that we can pass the information on to nature groups. You can use the email address.

Look out for our rewilding poems

Please look out for our series of rewilding signs when you are out and about – there is a set of six to spot featuring:

  • Advice from a Butterfly
  • Advice from a Caterpillar
  • Advice from a Dragonfly
  • Advice from a Honey Bee
  • Advice from a Meadow
  • Advice from a Wildflower

You can download our colouring sheets which can also be used to mark off the series as you spot them.

Rewilding sites

Site Mow Rewild
J11  Y  
A33 both sides    Y
Rose Kiln lane bank   Y
Basingstoke Road, Gillette   Y
Basingstoke Road, Hartland Rd to Aldi   Y
Northumberland Avenue roundabouts    Y
Northumberland Ave/Hartland Road roundabout Y  
Northumberland Avenue from Hartland Road, both sides Y  
Swallowfield Drive   Y
Foxhays Y  
Wentworth Drive Y  
Blagdon Road   Y
Hexham Road    Y
Cintra Avenue Y  
Mount Street Y  
Coley Place opposite flats Y  
Wensley Road green Y  
Rembrandt Way banks   Y
Harrow Court Y  
Somerstown Court Y  
Tilehurst Road (south side) Y  
Tilehurst Road/Liebenrood Road roundabout    Y
Bath Road/Granville Road Y  
Circuit Lane   Y
Devils Dip   Y
Dwyer Road/Burghfield Road   Y
Southcote Lane including roundabouts? Y  
Florian Gardens Y  
Hatford Road Y  
Ashampstead Road Y  
Tallis Lane Y  
Meadway banks Y  
Meadway green, opposite Dee Road junction Y  
Mayfair   Y
New Lane Hill   Y
Landsdowne Crescent   Y
Bran Close   Y
St Michael’s Road green   Y
St Michael’s Road/Walnut Way green   Y
Tilehurst Triangle Y  
Fircroft Close green at rear   Y
Rodway Road   Y
Vale Crescent bank   Y
Overdown Road opposite Overlanders End   Y
Overdown Road/Oxford Road roundabout   Y
Oxford Road (Network Rail side) Y  
Norcot Road roundabout   Y
Norcot Road banks   Y
Links Drive   Y
Meadow Park Academy/Church End Lane jn   Y
Portman Road (behind kneerail)   Y
Barnwood Close   Y
St Peter’s Hill/Dovedale Close banks Y  
Rotherfield Way (large areas)   Y
Southdown Road banks   Y
Peppard Road   Y
Buckingham Drive   Y
Lower Henley Road banks   Y
Milestone Way (mixed treatment) Y  
Emmer Green Pond   Y
Stuart Close   Y

Rewilding at home

A conversation between Carolyn from the council’s parks team and Councillor Karen Rowland, on how to establish a wildflower patch in your garden. They discuss tips on how to prepare the soil, how to choose the right seeds for the area you have and why it is important to rewild.

Our top ten tips for rewilding at home

  1. The best time to prepare your soil for wildflowers is late September or October
  2. Poor soil is best (or you’ll encourage grass). Don’t dig it over too much – break up and rake to create a fine surface and remove any large stones. A fine, firm seed bed that is not too deep is ideal.
  3. Allow the area to settle a few days before sowing.
  4. Take account of the soil type when choosing your seeds, there are mixes for dry and moist, sunny or shady sites. For example, don’t try to plant poppies in a shady, poorly drained location. Choose seed that grows in this sort of ground in the wild, like foxgloves and angelica.
  5. Wildflower turf is a good option but can be expensive. This comes as a mat, like lawn turf and can be laid out and firmed to make sure the roots are all in contact with the soil. A good local supplier is Wildflower Turf, near Basingstoke
  6. Seed mixes are much cheaper. There are seed  mixes for all locations, and plenty of suppliers at local garden centres or online. A good local supplier is Chiltern Seeds.
  7. If you use packet seeds, sow at the rate recommended on the instructions. More seed does not give more flowers, it creates more competition and nothing does well.
  8. Keep the soil watered and aim to keep it moist for at least two months.
  9. Be prepared to regularly remove aggressive weeds from your wildflower patch, such as docks, thistles and nettles.
  10. At the end of the season cut down the stems and let them fall into the patch to self-seed. Leave for a few days but don’t forget to remove as if left it can reduce soil fertility.