Following a successful two seasons, we continue to progress with the rewilding project in Reading. The project involves a new approach to grass cutting.
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) (now closed). 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. In 2021 we continued with one annual cut in the autumn on some sites, and with three cuts over the growing season on others. We explain the reasons for these two systems below.
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.
Where wildflowers are well-established, one annual cut in the autumn when seeds have been set is sufficient.
When grass is strong, it competes out other species, and it is necessary first to reduce the vigour of the grass to allow wildflower species to thrive. We will therefore be cutting some sites three times during the growing season for a few years and removing the cuttings. In a few years’ time, it will be possible to reduce this to one autumn mowing.
We are therefore proposing that we change from an annual cut-and-collect on some rewilded sites to a three-times-a-season cut-and-collect in order to assess the effect on biodiversity and the vigour of both flowers and grass. If you see us cutting early even when flowers are present, we are not making a mistake; this is a deliberate part of the programme. The flowers will come back.
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.
The changes made in 2020 and 2021 were an experiment. Some verges looked wonderful because they were species-rich, and others did not. This trial and the feedback we have received from residents, has given us a clearer picture of where these areas are.
We have not made any permanent changes, and we can reintroduce mowing where rewilding did not ‘work’ either ecologically or visually.
We continue to mow most of the borough verges as normal, but we hope to extend our trial areas in 2022.
View the full Wildflower Plan.
All verges in residential areas that are crossed regularly by driveways, and all small areas of grass continue to be mown. In unmown areas we created strips alongside roadways and footpaths, and desire lines cut through some of them to help with walking access.
In 2021 we extended trial areas across 12 parks, which has successfully added 2 hectares (5%) to the overall conservation grassland and rewilding efforts.
The council has also extended wildflower planting to areas within the town centre using enhanced wildflower turf, funded by Reading Central BID.
Local interest has enhanced the council’s efforts involvement with several volunteer groups arranging their own neighbourhood rewilding efforts, including areas of Waterloo Meadows and the Newtown Community Garden.
|Zone ‘outside’ the perimeter path
|Coley Recreation Ground
|Some of the bank to the west of the park
|Strip along the railway line
|Emmer Green Rec. Ground
|Area adjacent to the pavilion
|Southern perimeter (Napier Rd/Luscinia View)
|Kings Road Gardens
|Strip on top of the bank
|Perimeter ‘outside’ the avenue SE corner to play area
|Bank sloping towards Tilehurst Road
|Shinfield Recreation Ground
|Southern half of the site
|South Whitley Rec. Ground
|Whitley Wood Rec. Ground
|Old tennis court area
Please tell us what you think. You can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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@example.com email address.
Please look out for our series of rewilding signs when you are out and about – there is a set of six to spot featuring:
You can download our colouring sheets which can also be used to mark off the series as you spot them.
As well as recommending the continuation of the scheme during 2022, the option of creating wildflower – or naturally rewilded – areas on the margins of allotments sites, will be explored. There is also potential for rewilded areas in main shopping areas in Tilehurst, Caversham and Whitley, where there is land for wildflower planting, as well as corridors into Reading, like the A33, Oxford Road, London Road and Henley Road.