Growing Wild

Northumberland County Council is responsible for the maintenance of a vast network of grassland sites, including parks, nature reserves and roadside verges. In order for grassland to be effectively managed it requires regular cutting throughout the spring and summer growing season. However, not all areas of grassland need to be maintained to the standard of garden lawns or football pitches. Grassland that is allowed to flourish can transform into a sea of wildflowers becoming a haven for bees and butterflies.

The Growing Wild project

The Council has developed a project with Northumberland Wildlife Trust called ‘Growing Wild’ which will encourage appropriate areas of grassland to grow into and be managed as wildflower meadows.

Potential sites are assessed for their suitability through testing of the soil conditions. If soil conditions are right then the selected site is closely mown in late autumn and the cuttings removed. The site is then prepared by 'scarifying', which breaks up the surface of the topsoil removing dead undergrowth. Spraying of herbicide is also carried out on sites where invasive species are prevalent, such as creeping buttercup. Both of these actions create openings in the vegetation cover which gives new species such as yellow rattle and oxeye daisy the opportunity to establish.

Wildflower seeds or plug plants are then added to the site before winter sets in. The site is left to develop naturally the following spring, allowing as many wildflowers to grow as possible. Sites are not cut until late July and the cuttings are removed, as leaving them on site provides excess nutrients which encourages coarse weeds to grow and take over. A second cut may take place in late September/early October if too much secondary growth has occurred which will inhibit wildflowers from growing again the following year. This cutting regime will then continue in subsequent years to maintain the area.

Seed for the project has been sourced from a local farm in Thropton to ensure that it is able to cope with the weather conditions that the county of Northumberland experiences. The farmer has several existing wildflower meadows which include an excellent variety of species such as eyebright, meadow buttercup, oxeye daisy, red clover, yellow rattle and yarrow.

Project update

A total of 12 sites have so far been developed as part of the project, which can be identified by the bee logo:

  • Choppington Woods
  • Furnace Bank, Bedlington Station
  • Furnace Bridge, Bedlington Station
  • Gallagher Park, Bedlington
  • Hartford Bridge, Bedlington
  • Pegswood Pit Heap
  • Church Lane, Bedlington Country Park
  • Farquhar Deuchar Park, Morpeth
  • East Cramlington Local Nature Reserve
  • Fallowfield, Ashington
  • Isabella Pit Heap, Blyth
  • Valley Park , Cramlington

In 2012 and 2013 the Neighbourhood Services team of Northumberland County Council hopes to develop a further 10 sites as a result of some additional funding received by SITA Trust. We are currently considering sites in Blyth, Cramlington, Hexham and Morpeth for inclusion in the scheme in consultation with the relevant local parish council and any local community groups.

How you can help

The Council would like members of the public to let them know of any areas of grass that are regularly cut which they would like to see transformed into wildflower habitats. Alternatively there may be areas of grassland that were once a sea of wildflowers but have unfortunately been cut too vigorously in recent years that could be restored. We would also like to know of any areas of existing wildflowers so that we can ensure they continue to be managed in a way that will preserve them.

If you have any ideas for suitable wildflower sites please get in contact with Kevin O'Hara at Northumberland Wildlife Trust on 0191 284 6884.