Meet our wildlife warriors

Mon 18 Jul 2022

It’s a lovely spring day, as we head up the Afan Valley. We’re going to meet Tony, Josh and Lewis, three members of our neigbourhood team, tasked with managing our land in a sustainable way.

For the three of them, this is more than just a job. You can feel the passion they have for what they do, and they are keen to show us how their work is having an impact on the natural environment.

We meet them on the main road up to Blaengwynfi, by a big bank of primroses, in full bloom. Tony explains why we’ve met here:
“I wanted to show you all these flowers that have popped up in the last couple of weeks. This hasn’t happened by accident.

“Over the winter we cut back the brambles that were swamping this area to open up the land. Now, in the spring, we would normally be strimming this area to keep it looking neat and tidy. But we have decided to give it its first cut later in the summer, giving the flowers time to grow and establish themselves – and look what’s happened as a result, the bank is teeming with colour.

“Had we cut when we normally do, we would never have had all these flowers as they would have been cut back too.

"We will cut the area, but we will only do it once all the flowers have died back and have re-seeded themselves ready for next year.”

For Tony, that re-seeding is crucial:
“This has to be a long-term project. By allowing the flowers to grow and then naturally die back, they deposit their seeds into the ground, which will grow next year and produce even more flowers.

"We are allowing nature to re-claim the land and the flowers to self-seed. Over the next couple of years, this will become a natural wildflower meadow and will look spectacular."

It’s not just about making the place look pretty, there’s a more important reason for cutting less:
“For me, it’s about helping the environment,” said Josh.

“Having these flowers blooming attracts all sorts of wildlife, particularly bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Something that would never have happened had we cut when we normally do.”

“It just gives them a chance to get their food. A bee can only travel a couple of miles to get their nutrients, so where are they meant to go if there are no flowers for them?

“Regularly cut and weeded areas quickly become nature wastelands, with all potential diversity suppressed. Allowing them to ‘re-wild’ can provide vital food for insects.”

Reducing the number of cuts is already bearing fruit, according to Lewis:
“We’ve seen so many types of flowers pop up already. There are at least 12-15 species that we can identify straight away, and many that we aren’t familiar with.

"We’ve had things like the cuckoo flower, common vetch and cowslip. We’ve never had a chance to see these flowers before as they’re cut before they can establish themselves. It’s about going back to basics.”

Why let the grass grow? 
1. We are living in a climate and biodiversity emergency and as an organisation we want to do all we can to protect the planet.
2. Welsh Government is encouraging all of us to let it grow, and reduced grass cutting on our land is allowing wild flowers to grow and bees, butterflies and other pollinators to thrive.
3. Not everything will be left to ‘rewild’ as we will cut the borders of verges and cut some areas for recreational purposes. All areas will then by cut back once the wild flowers have naturally died, usually during July.
4. It’s not about saving money but about saving the planet, and changing our approach to things will make a big difference.
5. Leaving areas uncut will allow more natural flowers to take hold year on year. So, by next year, there’ll be more and more pockets of colour to be seen on our land and even more pollinators buzzing around.

As we look to change the way we manage and maintain our land, we recognise we may not always get it right and the new approach can look visually quite different to what has been done previously.

But hopefully, by working with our communities and stakeholders, we will be able to keep our land looking well maintained, whilst also helping biodiversity to thrive.