How to Rewild

Cut the Meadows

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Cut the Meadows

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Seasonality

What You Can Do

A diverse wildflower meadow doesn’t happen by accident – it needs careful management to avoid turning into ‘rank grassland’. In the wild, large herbivores would have roamed in huge herds across these meadows. 

Grazing herbivores on your land is the best way to keep your meadow healthy. But if you can’t access livestock (or if you have a small lawn!), then cutting the grass at the right time is the next best thing.

Why Bother Cutting?

If a grassland isn’t cut, then grasses become the largest, most dominant plants. In winter, all this lush growth flops down to create a rotting blanket. This smothers the new growth the following spring, leaving dark, dank conditions at the soil surface.

Actually, that’s great in places – rank grassland is ideal habitat for seed-eating grasshoppers, and rodents which will burrow through these patches, becoming food for predators like owls and foxes. But leave a whole meadow like this, and you won’t get many wildflowers germinating – you’ll end up with a bland field of grass.

If grassland isn’t cut every two years or so, it will eventually turn into scrub. This can be a valuable part of a rewilding habitat, but if all of your habitat becomes scrub, then there’s no edge habitat. And edges (‘ecotones’) are where the richest biodiversity lies.

When to Cut Meadows

Most grasslands can be cut once per year in late summer, ideally from the end of July to the start of September. But some grow more vigorously than others – particularly if they’re on wet, alluvial soils in floodplains (Neutral Grassland), or have been extensively fertilised (Modified Grassland). These fast-growing grasslands can also benefit from a late winter cut, in February or March.

How to Cut Meadows

The grass should be cut to a height of about 5cm and the ‘arisings’ raked off. Ideally, you should allow these arisings to dry on the surface first before raking – not just because it makes raking easier (it does!), but also because it allows seeds to pop out, and insects to scurry down.

You can either pile up your hay in stacks across the grassland, or take it elsewhere on site to be composted. Try to avoid leaving it in place – this will increase the nutrients in the soil over time, killing off wildflowers and creating a degraded Modified Grassland (essentially, a football pitch!).

The way that you cut the grass could improve the diversity of the grassland – leaving some patches of grass uncut for longer – even over winter – can improve diversity. And varying the patches that are left from year to year mimics the natural randomness of grazing activity in wild meadows.

What Tool?

Scythe: If you have under half an acre of land, it may be worth trying out scything. Just be sure to have the local massage therapist on speed dial.

Strimmer: These are not ideal for dense growth and thick stems. Especially with the plastic pollution left behind by the constantly-shredding blade.

Push Mower: Whether powered or not, push mowers tend to create a very flat surface which can reduce plant and insect diversity. They struggle with dense vegetation and thick stems.

Brushcutter: The ideal tool for up to 1.5 acres – use a dual metal blade and wear PPE. Over 1.5 acres may be achievable depending on your physical shape. Just be aware that raking is also a big part of the effort!

Ride-on Mower: Really the only sane tool for 2.5 – 10 acres unless you have an army of helpers, with their own brushcutters. The big compromise is that this will create a ‘parkland’ feel and can compact the ground due to the weight of the machinery.

Tractor-mounted mower: For 10+ acres, you’ll want to use farm machinery for the job.

Sward height
Paths and meadows should ideally be cut to a height of 5cm - about 2 inches. This prevents them from drying out too much in late summer.
Cutting paths
When the grass is cut, it can be piled up in stacks at intervals, if you haven't got the energy to take it off site. These stacks are good for invertbrates, small mammals and reptiles.

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