Bees and Wildflowers May Bounce Back as Roadsides Go Untrimmed

Silent lawn mowers in the United Kingdom may spell a summer bonanza for bees.

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Bees approve of lazy lawn mowing practices. Kishun Yuliia/Shutterstock

Not everyone on the planet is reeling from the pandemic. In fact, some species are flourishing in the absence of humans. And soon, according to one of England's biggest conservation groups, bees and wildflowers may join that list.

The not-for-profit group Plantlife has long urged people to ease up on their obsession with meticulously manicured lawns and gardens in order to give bees a much-needed foothold there. But now, according to BBC News, the shutdowns may be the most effective advocate for lazy lawn keeping. With millions of people staying home, the grass on both private and public lands is growing scruffier.

That's just the way bees like it — mostly because a lawn that's less mowed usually means more wildflowers for pollinating. In the U.K. in particular, grass-trimming on public lands has fallen by the wayside. The organization claims the result will likely be a boom in bright, colorful curbside meadows over the summer, and those wildflowers will draw bees, butterflies, birds and bats.

And it seems public opinion has finally turned in favor of keeping things thoughtfully messy for our pollinator pals.

"We have seen an upsurge in members of the public complaining that their councils are cutting the daisies," botanist Trevor Dines tells the BBC. "These sort of comments used to be outweighed by people complaining about untidy grass verges, but it seems as though the balance has shifted.

"Obviously we're extremely worried about the crisis and want it to end as quickly as possible. But if councils do change their methods because of the crisis, they might find it wins public support, which would be good for the future."

And that support couldn't come at a more crucial time, as wildflowers — literally, a pollinator's bread and butter — become increasingly rare.

In fact, as The Guardian points out, the long strips of public land that flank roads are the fleeting remains of once-expansive meadows. Those lands have since been transformed into farmland or residential developments. As it stands, the newspaper notes, roadside mini-meadows now account for 45 percent of the country's total flora — places that boast some 700 species of wildflowers.

But every spring, that pollinator's paradise is lost to a lawn mower blade. Roadsides, civic-minded authorities have it, must be prim and proper. As a result, according to Plantlife, rare wildflowers — oxeye daisy, yellow rattle, wild carrot, greater knapweed, white campio, betony and harbell — are disappearing.

Wildflowers grow along a road in Charltons, England. colingrice/

"For too long, scalping verges in the pursuit of neatness has been flattening wild plant communities," Dines explains in a press release. "When verges are cut early in spring – sometimes as early as April – most flowers just don't stand a chance. Summer has been disappearing from verges as colourful flowers cannot set seed before the mowers strike."

But this spring, under the shadow of a pandemic, those lawn blades have gone mostly silent. And that silence may be just the cue nature needs to start a symphony of her own — the kind that starts with a buzz.

"We must redouble our efforts to save and protect these under-appreciated, yet abundant, strips," Kate Petty, a campaign manager at Plantlife notes in the release. "Thankfully the fix is startlingly straightforward: simply cutting verges less and later will save plants, money and reduce emissions. We need to rewild ourselves and accept nature's wonderful 'messiness'."