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How a College does No Mow May

Plumpton College, a horticultural and agricultural college in South Downs takes part in No Mow May 2024.

Alex Waterfield, Grounds and Garden Manager, shares their experience, challenges and why they think letting their green spaces grow wild is great for nature.

College sign on grass

Tell us a bit about Plumpton

Plumpton College is an independent land-based FE & HE College, located at the foot of the South Downs in the South Downs National Park. Its estate covers more than 850 hectares, covering chalk downland and ancient woodland.

Plumpton has 18 different subject areas including Horticulture, Animal Management, Equine and Viticulture, just to pick a few. Learners range in age from 14 up to 80, depending on their choice of study. Plumpton offers short and full-time courses, as well as bespoke courses, for example in Food studies, with around 2000 students currently enrolled on courses.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

I am the Grounds and Gardens Manager and, including myself, form a team of 5 that develops and maintains approximately 30 acres of campus areas, as well as a small team at One Garden Brighton, our restored walled garden at Stanmer Park.

On the Plumpton campus, we have a mixture of formal and naturalistic planting schemes, providing a range of plants for identification and different propagation methods.

We work closely with curriculum teams to facilitate opportunities for students to work in groups or alongside the Grounds and Gardens team to gain practical experience in the day-to-day management or real life capital projects.

I give talks and tours to internal and external groups describing the way in which we manage the campus for the benefit of the environment. Examples of these groups are National Trust and RHS apprentices and local U3A groups.

How big is the green space?

There are different locations of green space around the campus, all of the areas would equal approximately 200m². The locations include the edge of car parks, ditches, the boundaries of large lawn areas, beneath trees. On a campus like ours, leaving edges a little wilder, blurs the boundaries between the wider estate and our campus areas, enabling the campus and countryside around it to feel like one.

Please tell us what made you take up No Mow May?

All of us in the team are in this career for the nurturing of plants and a passion for the environment. Being part of No Mow May gave us credence to the work we are trying to do on the campus, increasing wildlife diversity across the campus.

It gives us power to be able to use the resources provided by Plantlife to endorse the work we do, this isn’t something the Grounds and Gardens team wanted to do because they liked the idea, but a national initiative with a scientific basis.

In a public location such as ours, we can raise the profile of the campaign to a larger audience, hopefully inspiring others to do the same in their own spaces.

What are your future plans for the space?

The areas will need managing later in the year to ensure that the grass species don’t out compete the floral species. Around the end of August, depending on the species present, we will cut areas, leaving seed to drop in a floral meadow before clearing the arisings so they don’t decompose and raise fertility rates in the soil to the benefit of the grass species.

Some areas we won’t cut at all and leave as long grass and dead stems to provide seed source for birds, a place for invertebrates and arachnids to hibernate and be safe from predation. We won’t cut these areas till later in the following year, so fallen grass can be used by field voles and possibly even harvest mice for nesting.

The over wintering areas are left on rotation, again so that the grass doesn’t become dominant, blocking light to the soil surface for wildflower species to germinate.

In the spaces that are more grass species heavy, we will carry out a hard scarification and over seed with a general wildflower mix suited for the aspect and soil conditions of the site. Growing wildflowers from plugs is also another option that we will look to undertake in populating areas with more flowering species.


Were there any challenges you faced?

In the beginning, I probably went too wild for some peoples tastes and had to rein this back so that areas looked more under control and managed.

A simple way to achieve this was where we could, we would mow a perimeter to the areas – sub consciously those walking by assume that the green space is being cared and maintained, just by having a defined edge.

Going back to the human need for neatness, embedded in some of us over generations a neatly mown edge shows off and frames the green space you are managing for nature.

How did you convince people?

The raising of awareness of the nature and climate emergency in the public eye has helped to convince people that this is the right course of action to take. It is getting more mainstream now to behave and look after areas as adopted in the campaign. So making use of social media – the more posts that get likes gives power to our cause.

Being super enthusiastic about the initiative myself and within the team also helps, enthusiasm is infectious and this will only rub off on others.

Different needs for the land use

There are a lot of pressures on different land use around the campus and the need to consider the needs of others when planning on where we can leave areas unmown. For example, we have just had our College open day and some of the public stalls and the Forestry demonstration area were located on an area where we would like to have created islands of long grass. But we have had to pause these plans. Now we can allow the grass to grow, before mowing shorter again, ahead of next year’s event.

Monetary rationale
We also used the monetary and efficiency rationale. Why pay someone to mow all the grass areas for th sake of mowing somewhere. Less mowing equals labour and more time to spend on other areas of the campus, plus less fuel/battery charging and less where and tear of resources – everybody wins.

Would you recommend this to others and why?

I would 100% recommend others to do this. There a number of different green spaces across the campus we have adopted into the campaign. These have been strategically chosen for a various reasons:

  • Provide connectivity/nature corridors through the campus – whether you are an invertebrate or small mammal, there will be areas of safe passage away from predation.
  • Carbon sequestration – research tells us that grassland areas are more reliable than forests at sequestering carbon, where they store it in roots and the soil.
  •  Natural Flood Management – we’ve allowed the vegetation and grass to grow up along a hedgerow ditch. When we get heavy downpours of rain, the vegetation slows the rate of discharge further downstream, reducing the risk of flooding neighbouring buildings and land. By doing this we’ve found we’ve created habitat for small mammals and see flora appearing such as Sweet Violet and St. John’s perforate where we hadn’t have otherwise.
  • Aesthetically – the longer, wilder areas, provide a soft edge to what otherwise might be a hard structure such as a fence, wall or kerb line.
  • Wellbeing – it’s great when you see students, staff and visitors making use of the mown paths you have provided through a particular area. We will mow out larger spaces beneath the shade offered by trees, surrounded by long grass, providing a calm, social space for people to gather out of the hot summer sun. Longer grass and floriferous spaces also provide stimulus for all the senses – sight, sound, touch and scent. And we can’t forget the importance of nature’s very own colour palette of different textures of leaf and flower colour. These areas are calming for the soul and you can see others get excited when they see a ladybird or bee – allowing a space for people to have a closer connection with nature without having to travel to far.
  • We feel we are custodians of our spaces and have the power to be able to bring these opportunities to people, raise and educate others on the subject without them necessarily realising it’s happening.
  • Doing this in different areas across the campus shows how the idea can be scaled up or scaled down, depending on an individual’s space, so as mentioned before, hopefully it can inspire others. It gives the message that if everyone can do a little bit, it will all add up to a greater good.

What are the things you are doing to the space other than not mowing?

  • We are a hedgehog friendly campus, moving towards our Silver award. This is being achieved through hedgehog awareness campaigns and log pile supermarkets for hedgehogs – attracting the grubs and bugs they’ll feed upon,
  • Creating small dead hedging in herbaceous borders which provide habitat for wildlife and create interesting natural shapes, which provide structure in a border after the plants have been cut back.
  • Leaving dead stems on herbaceous perennials to provide seeds for birds, hibernating sites for invertebrates and arachnids.
  • Not clearing leaf piles from borders where they’ve dropped, providing a mulch for the soil and habitat over winter.
  • Using home grown made compost as mulch generated from green waste across the campus.
    St. Michael’s church – we have a church yard in the centre of the campus where we adopt our No Mow May approach to the grass areas.


Thank you Alex, we really appreciate you sharing your No Mow May journey with us. We hope more colleges manage their green spaces like you.

Plantlife Team

Images Credit: Alex Waterfield