Celebrating No Mow May

By Jayna Connelly, Farmland Ecology Research Assistant

HQ greeneryAs a researcher surveying pollinators, I occasionally find my attention drawn to the low hum of what I hope might be a foraging queen bumblebee, only to find it is in fact that of a distant strimmer. It would be a sad day if all we hear in spring is the buzzing of our neighbour’s lawnmower.

1 May marked the start of 2024’s No Mow May. This campaign, initiated by the conservation organisation Plantlife, encourages us not to mow our lawns during May as a way of supporting not only our country’s flora, but the wildlife that relies on it – particularly pollinators such as bees.

Here at the GWCT, we have pledged to conserve the floral resources around our headquarters, and you can do the same!

Why No Mow May?

No Mow May butterflyBy May, many wild bees have emerged but some will struggle to find food, owing to the loss of 97% of our wildflower meadows since the 1930s. During May, and potentially even earlier this year given the milder winter, flowers are a lifeline for bees, butterflies, moths and even some flies that provide essential pollination services to us and our ecosystem all year round.

Committing to a No Mow May policy gives flowering plants a chance to grow, bloom, and set seed. These are crucial for our pollinators, yet this year’s unusual weather – with record rain and lower-than-average spring temperatures – has made it harder for them to thrive.

After May is over, selective light mowing of some areas allows flowers like daisies, which can handle occasional mowing, to flourish. But where possible, it's best to leave some grass completely unmown to create a variety of grass lengths, not just in May, but throughout the summer. This approach helps mitigate the impact of extreme weather on insect and invertebrate species. Large areas of grass that were waterlogged or flooded during winter and spring likely caused a significant drop in overwintering insects as adults, larvae or pupae.

Is a honeybee hive enough?

When we think of pollinators, honeybees often come to mind. They’re widely recognised for their role in commercial agriculture and, of course, for producing honey – a product valued for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and other health-promoting properties. However, the government FERA National Bee Unit recently urged UK beekeepers to check their hives regularly, as recent inspections revealed that many bee colonies are running dangerously low on food stores. Some colonies have already succumbed to starvation due to a prolonged wet and cold spring that prevented bees from replenishing their winter reserves. With climate change, such conditions could become more frequent.

But despite their value, honeybees aren’t the most efficient pollinators. Their primary role is honey production, and while they do contribute to pollination they account for only 13-30% of global pollination services. This raises a critical point: relying solely on honeybees might not be enough to support the pollination needs of our farms and natural ecosystems. While honeybees are helpful, they cannot replace the complex web of pollinators that support our environment and agriculture.

Honeybees are such efficient gatherers for honey that they drop very little pollen, and so provide relatively little cross pollination as they travel from flower to flower. Bumblebees and solitary bees drop pollen more readily and therefore provide better cross pollination. These wild bees are also ‘hardier’ and will be active during colder conditions compared to honeybees, so continue pollinating when honeybees are not active. These wild bees are the ones that we really need to support, and they cannot be commercially bred like honeybees.

It is crucial to take a broader approach to pollinator conservation, acknowledging the unique contributions of different species. An initiative like No Mow May, which encourages us to support a greater plant diversity within our gardens and public land, in turn supports a more diverse array of pollinator species.


No Mow May beeWe currently have a fantastic array of daisies and dandelions across our lawns at GWCT HQ. These may not seem exciting but provide vital resources for some bee species, including buff-tailed bumblebees and solitary bees (which are easily mistaken for flies). These bees are not able to reach very far into deeper flowers, so open-structured flowers, such as dandelions, are essential to provide them with accessible pollen and nectar.

I have also seen many bumblebees using the white dead nettle growing in the field at HQ. These bell-shaped flowers are essential forage for long-tongued bees like garden bumblebees. This species is struggling due to a lack of appropriate floral resources, but while working on the BEESPOKE project we saw that these were one of the only species that consistently provide cross-pollination for farmer’s field bean crops.

I have also noticed queen bumblebees nesting in the longer grass around the edge of the field, an essential but rare habitat for many insects. By allowing tussocky grass to grow in less disturbed areas, we can provide suitable nesting habitat. Look out for social bumblebees like buff-tails and red-tails using these spaces. You may even spot a parasitic cuckoo bumblebee capitalising on the social bumble’s hard work – don’t be alarmed, they are a great sign that you have made a fantastic bee habitat.

It is always good to consider how the structure of different flowers suits different bees’ needs. The more common bee species are common for a reason; they are less fussy and easily adapt to a range of forage plants. Many of the less-common bees, however, are specialised for a small number or sometimes even just one type of flower. So by letting your little patch of nature grow, you might find floral species in the seed bed that you’ve never seen before and possibly provide crucial forage for really rare species too!

Beyond No Mow May

Putting a pause on mowing during May gives plants like dead nettles, ground ivy, bluebells and comfreys a chance to flower. But why stop there? Later in the season, thistles, teasel, red clover, devil’s-bit-scabious and bird’s-foot trefoil provide important forage for our rarer long-tongued bees. As well as pollen and nectar, these plants also provide other resources for pollinators. Many are foodplants for caterpillars, and maintaining some uncut areas throughout the summer will provide a place for butterflies and moths to lay their eggs.

Here at the GWCT, our Advisory team recommend avoiding grass cutting regimes between March and mid-July to help protect the nests of farmland birds such as grey partridge and skylark. While few of us will be lucky enough to have them nesting in our garden, there are surprisingly wide range of British birds that nest on the ground, and that ought to be considered before cutting hay or mowing hedgerow tracks.

Consider extending the ‘no mow’ mentality to your hedges too, cutting these across a three-year cycle to allow native flowering bushes such as blackthorn and hawthorn to shine. These early flowers are magnets for tiny solitary bees like mining bees and furrow bees.

It is possible to manage habitats in a sympathetic way and it still look purposeful. No Mow May is not about just tolerating messy areas, but allowing nature to create its own beautiful, diverse habitats that we can enjoy. No matter how big or small our gardens, the vast majority of us have something we can offer to our native plants and their pollinators. Rotating where you cut can create a hugely diverse sward of grass and flowers with areas for butterflies to bask in the sun and places for bumblebees to nest. So put your feet up and let the magic of nature flourish right in front of you!

Further resources

Wild bee ID guides:

The value of honeybee pollination and other pollinators:

BEESPOKE project resources on pollinator reliant crops:


No Mow May

at 10:18 on 15/05/2024 by Tim Huggins

A very well put together piece. Thank you. A couple of observations. Some species do well on short awards, which have naturally been provided by rabbits and other grazers. I note that pied wagtails and starlings avoid long grass when foraging. Long grass areas are often dominated by docks, thistles, nettles and coarse grasses like cocks foot and yellow oat grass. The answer I apply is ‘some mow May’ cutting paths through lawn areas and selectively mowing coarse areas, and removing cuttings to reduce fertility.

No mow May

at 19:55 on 14/05/2024 by Brenda Reeve

I normally don’t mow my lawn at all until mid May because I have Spring flowers in it and I let them die down. As it is No Mow May I have not done its first cut yet. I am sure the neighbours hate it but the insects and our cats love it.

No Mow May

at 18:19 on 14/05/2024 by Simon Kibble

Having read the article which I found to very thought provoking in making changes to the standards norm of manicured lawns as is the case across the country covering an acreage I wouldn't like to take a guess at . Ei would like to think if even a square meter of lawn was left to go as described thar it would be better than nothing. Also the role of pollinators is far wider than the bees mentioned and clearly a mostly forgotten pollinator group are our moths which because of their nocturnal activities are rarely seen and by far overlooked. They suffer terribly with the treatment hedgerows get when mechanically flailed destroying both habitat eggs & pupae and therefore potential caterpillars all key parts of the Birdlife food chain. I recall as a child the bug life inc moths that came into the house on a warm evening attracted by the light was a mass . This sadly I'd no longer the case. All out effort is in my opinion required to help prevent further losses of all our beneficial bees bugs and moths.

No Mow May

at 11:46 on 14/05/2024 by WBW

Excellent article Jayna Something we can all do ,and hopefully make a difference to our struggling bee population.

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