Rewilding Ards & North Down's Story
As well as altering our grassland management regime under the rewilding scheme, we have also taken substantial steps towards more sustainable annual planting schedule. The move towards this type of planting has expanded significantly since 2018, and the use of direct sowing annual flowers throughout the Borough’s flower beds has proven a great success. Annual wildflower planting is significantly less expensive and produces displays of greater impact with greater longevity. Species in these mixes are specifically chosen for their pollinator-friendly flowers. With careful planning and consideration, officers hope to build on what has already been achieved and extend sustainable annual planting to include additional areas.
To promote the initiative and to inform members of the public of the benefits of the altered management practices, informative signage was placed at each rewilding location.
The power of community buy-in cannot be underestimated. There is tremendous scope in harnessing the energy and commitment of local groups.
Work has already progressed with ongoing discussions with volunteer and local groups in relation to the potential future management and volunteer recording at some of the sites.
The benefits of being outside and engaging in the natural world on our mental and physical well-being are well known and documented; recent surveys during Covid-19 have only reinforced and heightened its importance. A focus on our surrounding environment and nature might just be at the heart of our community's emergence from the current crisis.
However, it is important to note that the principle driver of projects such as this should be environmental rather than financial. A significant reduction in CO2 emissions as a result of a reduction in grass cutting frequency further reduces the Council’s carbon footprint. It is therefore considered that this management change is financially cost-neutral but substantially beneficial to the biodiversity asset of the Borough.
Useful Learnings from Rewilding Ards & North Down
Rewilding is the restoration of natural ecosystems, encouraging a balance between people and the rest of nature where each can thrive. It is not something that is solely focused on rural landscapes. The creation and maintenance of meadow grasslands is taking place in public open spaces across the UK.
In 2018 an audit of our grassland mowing regime across the Borough was undertaken by the Council’s Biodiversity and Horticultural Officers, in collaboration with Parks Maintenance staff and it found significant potential for rewilding some areas of our existing open space portfolio.
By altering and reducing our mowing practices we have converted large areas of closely mown, species-poor amenity grasslands to grassland habitats capable of supporting a much more diverse range of floral species, pollinators, and insects. We hope to continue to increase our rewilding portfolio across council-owned lands. As well as the biodiversity benefits, studies have shown that conversion from species-poor to species-rich grassland can significantly increase the soil carbon sequestration rate. In addition, a significant reduction in CO2 emissions as a result of a reduction in grass-cutting frequency reduces the Council’s carbon footprint.
The Rewilding project has created opportunities for education by creating outdoor classrooms, where schools and local members of the community can discover the natural world and develop an understanding of environmental issues through first-hand experience. Educational activities can also be enabled in a meadow grassland including bug hunts, flower species identification, sketching flowers etc... Regular positive feedback on the benefits of these sites from constituents and visitors highlights the positive impact this scheme has made to people’s lives in addition to the obvious biodiversity benefit.
It is the intention that the current sites will continue to be subject to the alternative management techniques outlined above with a view to encouraging increased variety of species. In addition to the ongoing maintenance, the schedules will be altered to take account of infrequent event use on certain sites. It is critical that the rewilding parks project works in harmony with the overall use of parks and that a balanced offering is available across the parks portfolio. Events and community use will be catered for in the integrated grassland management of each chosen site.
Gaining the public's understanding and support is key to the success of this project. Interpretive signage was incorporated into the 2018-2020 schedule with signage erected at all rewilding sites in 2019. There was some initial negative feedback on one site in particular, but following positive engagement and communication, there have been no further negative comments.
Rewilding Ards & North Down's Metrics
Area of land converted to rewilding projects.
Increase in variety and number of species.
Additional audit of remaining grasslands for extension of rewilding project.