Rewilding Reading

Landsdowne Road wildflowers during 2020
Landsdowne Road wildflowers during 2020

Following a successful first year, we are progressing with the rewilding project in Reading. The project involves a new approach to grass cutting, and in 2021 we will be comparing two different mowing regimes across different sites.

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. In 2021 we will continue 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.

Why is mowing important?

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.

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.

Are the changes permanent?

The changes made in 2020 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 2021.

View the full Wildflower Plan.

Where will the rewilding happen?

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.

During 2020 we did not make any changes in the parks. The area of grassland left as conservation grass is unchanged. Following the success of the 2020 trial we now plan to extend the rewilding to 12 parks, which would add 2 ha (5%) to the overall amount of conservation grass.

Proposed new rewilding areas in parks

Park Location Area
Cintra Park Zone ‘outside’ the perimeter path 0.2 ha
Coley Recreation Ground Some of the bank to the west of the park 0.15 ha
Edenham Crescent Strip along the railway line 0.05 ha
Emmer Green Rec. Ground Area adjacent to the pavilion 0.03 ha
Kings Meadow Southern perimeter (Napier Rd/Luscinia View) 0.2 ha
Kings Road Gardens Strip on top of the bank 0.01 ha
Milestone Way Selectively 0.25 ha
Palmer Park Perimeter ‘outside’ the avenue SE corner to play area 0.22 ha
Prospect Park Bank sloping towards Tilehurst Road 0.1 ha
Shinfield Recreation Ground Southern half of the site 0.3 ha
South Whitley Rec. Ground Selectively 0.25 ha
Whitley Wood Rec. Ground Old tennis court area 0.24
    2.0 ha

Tell us what you think of rewilding in Reading

Please tell us what you think. You can send us an email at rewilding@reading.gov.uk 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 rewilding@reading.gov.uk 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.

Proposed 2021 rewilding sites

As well as extending the new scheme across new areas of the borough – including Wensley Road green, Cintra Avenue and parts of Milestone Way, other exciting plans include wildflower planting in the town centre and around the Civic Offices, on selected roundabouts and around the main shopping areas in Tilehurst, Caversham and Whitley, where there is land for planting, as well as corridors into Reading, like the A33, Oxford Road, London Road and Henley Road.