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If you’re taking part in No Mow May this year, then your garden will be well on its way to becoming a beautiful, biodiverse haven for nature. But there is a bonus to helping the wildflowers grow – as you allow lawn to become meadow, your garden becomes your very own carbon store, helping to reduce your carbon footprint.

When carbon sequestration is mentioned, most minds turn to trees. As a society we are more aware than ever before of the role of woodlands in combatting climate change and creating a space for nature. Much less discussed is the remarkable and equally vital role our grasslands and meadows can play in increasing biodiversity and capturing and storing carbon from the atmosphere.  

How do grasslands store carbon?

Wildflowers growing in a meadow with cattle behind

When we create healthy grasslands and meadows by mowing or grazing livestock, we are simply replicating the activity of the herds of large wild herbivores that once moved across our hills and valleys. These habitats – if the grazing is gentle, infrequent and low intensity – recreate prehistoric landscapes and provide a home for our wild plants, insects, birds and fungi. Natural and semi-natural grasslands (meaning those that are farmed but in a traditional, less intensive manner) improve the quality of our water, prevent flooding and help increase the resilience of farming to summer droughts. 

This grassland – and the healthy soil beneath it – also has an incredible and little-known potential to lock away atmospheric carbon. Soil carbon is a particularly valuable store; it is far more stable and long lasting than the carbon in trees, which is vulnerable to forest fires, pests and disease.

As plants live and grow, carbon from the atmosphere is drawn down into the plants’ roots, where the myriad creatures in the soil make use of it, locking it away beneath the ground. As the diversity of plants on the surface increases, so does the diversity of microorganisms, fungi and invertebrates beneath it. The more diverse the soil life, the richer the entire ecosystem – and the more carbon the soil can store.

The role of Mycorrhizal fungi

The almost mystical role of mycorrhizal fungi is now well known. They connect roots to the nutrients in the soil, trading sugars that plants and trees create from sunlight with locked away minerals the fungi extract from the soil. We now know that plants and trees can communicate through these fungal networks, alerting them to pests and diseases and passing nutrients to others in need.

Meadow on Dartmoor

Mycorrhizal fungi have another important role – they are critical in the ability of plants to transfer carbon to the soil. In areas of farmland, meadow and garden where the soil is ploughed, fertilised or dominated by a small number of grass species, these mycorrhizal networks are much less effective – with fewer species and a lower carbon storage potential. When we look after our farmland and gardens with care, mowing and grazing infrequently and gently, avoiding ploughing and pesticides, we nurture our mycorrhizal fungi, helping the soil to become a more potent carbon store.

How does No Mow May help?

By taking part in No Mow May, you will not only begin to create a home for wildflowers and insects, you will also create healthier soils that nourish your garden plants – and reduce your carbon footprint in the process.

England alone has around 640,000 hectares of private garden. If just a quarter of this area was transformed into wildflower rich meadow – by mowing just once or twice a year and collecting the cuttings – then these garden soils could potentially capture and store an additional amount of carbon equivalent to more than 3 million average cars’ annual emissions within a spade’s depth, and well over 10 million cars in soils as deep as one meter*.

A blossoming garden lawn full of wildflower

Lawns and gardens are of course just one part of the puzzle – the UK’s farmed grassland landscape offers tremendous potential for us to sequester carbon, while also protecting agriculture and biodiversity.

Farmers and landowners have a fundamental role to play – combining food production with sustainable grasslands that lock away carbon in healthy, ecologically rich soils. Some 40% of the UK’s land area is grassland – but much of this is intensively farmed, limiting its potential for carbon storage.

Globally, studies have suggested that 2.3-7.3 billion tons of CO2 equivalents per year could be sequestered through grassland diversity restoration. Carbon sequestration doesn’t just mean more trees. Healthy grassland, with the more sensitive grazing and less intensive farming that nourishes it, also keeps carbon out of the atmosphere. 

No matter how large or small our garden, we all have a role to play, and we can all make a difference. It’s easy to get started – just put your lawnmower away this May!

More about #NoMowMay

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?
No Mow May lawn with Bulbous Buttercup and Meadow saxifrage

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?

Thousands of people across the country have been letting it grow for #NoMowMay this year – and this is what it looks like!

No Mow May: Can your garden be a carbon store?
Garden meadow by pond (c) Shuttleworth

No Mow May: Can your garden be a carbon store?

It’s not just trees that capture and store carbon – our meadows and grasslands can play an important role too.

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow
Wildflower meadow landscape with a variety of species near Cardiff, Wales

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow

Whether it’s your back garden, local park, community field or lawn, wildflower meadows are amazing spaces with so much to offer.

Creating a meadow is a really simple way to bring the local community together, whilst doing something positive for nature.

You don’t need to be an expert to start one – we’ve shared our tips for how to begin, what to plant, how to manage your green space year-round and how to engage the community.

So, what are community meadows? They are areas, predominantly of grassland, that are owned and managed by the community, such as parks, road verges, school grounds, village greens, church land or fields.

A meadow with Oxeye daisies, lush green grass and woodlands in the background

Why should you start a community meadow?

  • For the benefit of nature
  • To create an ecosystem where wildlife can flourish
  • Bring the community together
  • To bring nature into towns and cities
  • Help tackle biodiversity loss and store carbon

Read more: How to grow a wildflower meadow

Getting started

Now you’ve decided to try and start a community meadow, it’s hard to know where to begin. We’ve got plenty of experience and advice to help you along the way.

Contact your local council – Whether it’s parish, town or district council, reaching out to your local decision makers to promote wildlife-friendly management can make a big difference. Local support can really help to bring about change, whether that’s through a volunteer group or social media page. Check out our Good Meadows Guide for some convincing arguments.

Positive perceptions – Some people might be concerned that not cutting a greenspace as regularly might make it look neglected and untidy. But, framing a greenspace by cutting narrow strips around the wildflower area can offset some negative perceptions. Other concerns about plant height for road safety can be tackled by growing shorter species, which can still support an array of pollinators such as clovers, trefoils, Selfheal and Yarrow.

Communicating at every step – Telling people what and why you are creating a meadow is crucial for understanding. By bringing the community with you and working together, it will be easier to explain the benefits of meadow making. You could write something in the local magazine, talk about your meadow-making journey on social media or put up a sign.

Community activities – Bringing the community together to help create a meadow can be very beneficial. You can run activities, join campaigns or hold events to gather momentum.

  • Plantlife’s No Mow May is a great starting point to encourage the community to take part in a community meadow and see the benefits. People without their own gardens can actively get involved in helping wildlife, tackling pollution and even locking carbon beneath the ground. And those with their own green spaces can take their enthusiasm home and do #NoMowMay in their own gardens. Sign up your green space or garden here.

 

How to fund a community meadow?

If you need some help funding your community meadow, these places might be able to offer support:

  • Charity Commission – A range of charities offer funding for community meadows. You need to complete an advanced search under ‘how the charity helps’.
  • Local Supermarket Community Grants – Most supermarkets support local causes through tax on carrier bags or instore tokens such as Tesco, Asda and Co-op. 
  • Postcode Local Trust – Grants of up to £2,000 for community interest groups and voluntary organisations are up for grabs.
  • Local Community Foundations – They channel funding to local projects and will be able to advise on where to access support.
  • Local Councils – Contacting your local authority and asking them about available funding is definitely worth a shot.
  • Area’s of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and National Parks – If your meadow lies in either of these areas, it’s worth contacting your local organisation to see if there is any funding available.
  • Lottery – Small lottery grants, worth £300-£10,000 are available across the UK.

We hope that this helps you in creating a wonderful community meadow. Do let us know on social media when you have tried these methods and your progress in creating a meadow by tagging us.

Find a meadow group near you:

Are you feeling inspired, but not sure where to start? Aside from Plantlife’s guidance, a great source of  knowledge and personal support can be from meadow groups. A huge variety of groups exist across the country, who manage meadows for hay, livestock or community benefits. These groups could also be good places to start when searching for local seeds or advice.

If you would like to add your community meadow group to our list, please get in touch here.

More ways to learn about wild plants and fungi

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?
No Mow May lawn with Bulbous Buttercup and Meadow saxifrage

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?

Thousands of people across the country have been letting it grow for #NoMowMay this year – and this is what it looks like!

How to Start a Community Meadow?

How to Start a Community Meadow?

Want to start a community meadow, but not sure where to begin? Read our guide to creating a flower-filled haven for your local community.

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow
Wildflower meadow landscape with a variety of species near Cardiff, Wales

How to Grow a Wildflower Meadow

Whether it’s your back garden, local park, community field or lawn, wildflower meadows are amazing spaces with so much to offer.

Meadows come to life in the spring and summer, bursting with vibrant wildflowers and buzzing with insects and animals. But species-rich grassland areas, which used to occur commonly throughout Britain, are now amongst the most threatened habitats in the UK.

Approximately 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost across the UK since the 1930s. That’s why wildflowers and meadows are not only beautiful staples of the British countryside, but also crucial habitats that need restoring.

Why are meadows so amazing?

  • They are important ecosystems
  • Species-rich grasses can significantly improve carbon storage in the soil
  • They provide a brilliant habitat for bees, butterflies, birds and small mammals
  • Old grasslands can have very diverse fungal networks
  • In fact, 140 plant species can be found in a single meadow

WATCH: Not just a pretty space, this is a living space

So, the more areas that can be turned into wildflower meadows, the better things get for nature.

No matter the size of your land, the process of making a wildflower meadow is pretty much the same. Follow these steps to start your meadow-making journey:

Cut the grass

Before sowing seed, in late summer or autumn, you must cut the grass as short as possible. The cuttings must then be removed because most meadow species thrive in nutrient-poor soil with low fertility levels. Leaving the cuttings on the grass to rot down, both stifles delicate seedlings, and adds nutrients.

This can easily be done using a strimmer or mower and the cuttings removed with a rake.

Tackle any problem plants

It is really important to control any problem plants that could prevent your meadow from thriving. For example, species such as Nettle, Creeping Thistle and Dock can rapidly spread and crowd wildflowers in poorly managed meadows.

To stop this, it is best to pull these plants out by hand, cut their heads before they set seed or spot spray them. Bramble and scrub will also need to be controlled before creating a meadow.

If you have lots of problem plants, it will be easier (if possible) to try and create a meadow on another piece of land.

Create bare ground

Bare ground is simply an area that has no plants living in it. It provides germination gaps and growing space for meadow flowers and grasses. Having about 50-70% of land as bare ground will increase your chances of creating a wildflower meadow.

This can be done by hand with vigorous raking, strimming or using a rented garden scarifier.

Sow seeds

Sprinkle and gently trample in your seeds, which can be mixed with sand for easier spreading. During drier spells, water the ground if possible, but do not wash away the seeds.

Then, over the next few months pull up any Creeping Thistle and Dock or cut the flower heads off and remove before they set seed (these can spread fast and smother wildflowers).

Knowing a bit about your soil can also really help you to choose which seeds to sow. There are many factors that can influence what will grow including the soil type, fertility, location, weather, availability of light and what’s already growing there.

Don’t worry if your meadow looks a bit plain in its first year, many perennials take at least a couple of years to establish.

We hope that these tips help you in creating a wonderful meadow. Do share your meadow-making journey with us on social media by tagging us.

More ways to learn about wild plants and fungi

No Mow May: Can your garden be a carbon store?
Garden meadow by pond (c) Shuttleworth

No Mow May: Can your garden be a carbon store?

It’s not just trees that capture and store carbon – our meadows and grasslands can play an important role too.

The Wildlife in our Meadows
Duke of Burgundy butterfly on cowslip.

The Wildlife in our Meadows

From bumblebees to birds and moths to mammals – meadows are micro-cities of wildlife. Here's what to spot in your wildflower meadow.

Finding Hazel Gloves Fungus: Why Recording Matters

Finding Hazel Gloves Fungus: Why Recording Matters

Hazel Gloves Fungus is a priority species on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, learn more about this rainforest fungi this Reverse the Red month.

Wildflower meadows, a staple of the British countryside, are a buzz of activity, especially in the spring and summer. It’s not just the wildflowers and fungi that rely on their diverse vegetation, in fact, a range of wildlife can call these habitats home. By growing a meadow, you can also create a home or hunting ground for bees, butterflies, invertebrates, birds, mammals and reptiles.

Here are some of the animals you might spot in a meadow:

Invertebrates

A Flower Beetle resting on a large Oxeye Daisy, image by Pip Gray
  • Creating a meadow can really make a buzz and life in the centre can be like rush hour for insects
  • You can see everything, from ants to grasshoppers and huge armies of beetles and bugs
  • For many invertebrates, the stems, roots and leaves of meadow grasses and flowers provide food and shelter
  • The Cockchafer Beetle, commonly known as the May Bug, relies on grassy areas to lay their eggs
  • The common Bird’s-foot-Trefoil alone is a food plant for 130 different species of invertebrates

Our friends at Buglife can tell you more

Bees

Buff tailed bumblebee feeding on Knapweed
  • Pollinators, such as bees, commute to meadows every day to feast on nectar and pollen
  • Managing a meadow appropriately will increase the number of wildflowers that it supports, thus increasing the foraging habitat for bumblebees and other foragers
  • Red-tailed Bumblebees, found across the UK, rely on a plentiful supply of wild plants including dandelions and red clovers to supply them with nectar and pollen
  • If you’re in a meadow, look out for bumblebees, burrowing bees, flower bees, carder bees and honeybees
  • There are about 270 species of bee in Britain

Buzz over to the Bumblebee Trust here.

Butterflies and Moths

  • Even in a small meadow, wildflowers can be a magnet for butterflies and moths
  • When you’re planting for butterflies it’s good to have a constant procession of flowering plants throughout the summer – something that is in flower for as long as possible – ideally from March to November
  • This means local populations of butterflies and moths will not have to travel too far to find food
  • The Meadow Brown butterfly is one of the most common species found in grasslands
  • While the brightly coloured Cinnabar Moth relies entirely on one of the sunniest wildflowers – the yellow Common Ragwort. The tiger-striped caterpillars munch on the plant before pupating underground over the winter, ready to emerge as moths the next year

Flutter over to Butterfly Conservation for a bit more

Birds

  • The many insects that call meadows home also support other wildlife like swallows, skylarks and yellow wagtails
  • Goldfinches and linnets feast on the abundant seed heads
  • While lapwings, curlew and starling search the ground for insects from early autumn to spring

Fly over to the RSPB for a bit more

 

Mammals

Brown hare
  • Meadows provide a place for wild animals to forage, breed and nest – and if the grasses are tall enough, they can provide shelter
  • A large number of small mammals can call meadows home – including mice, voles and shrews
  • They also attract birds of prey to meadows, especially owls and kestrels
  • Other mammals you might spot in a meadow include moles, rabbits, hares, badgers and grazing deer
    • And we can’t forget bats – who can be seen in the summer months flying low over grassland

Meander over to the Mammal Society to find out more

Reptiles and Amphibians

  • Allowing lawns or green spaces to develop into meadows can provide a great habitat for amphibians, reptiles and their prey – unlike closely-mown lawns
  • The tall grasses and flowers (vegetation) provide these animals with cover
  • Reptiles and amphibians also prefer native plant species and minimal use of pesticides as they mainly feed on invertebrates, other amphibians and small mammals

Slither over to Amphibian and Reptile Conservation to find out more

The 28th UN Climate Conference of Parties has just drawn to a close in Dubai, during which there had been fierce negotiations over the future of fossil fuels.

In the early hours of this morning the gavel went down and 198 governments agreed to “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner… so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”. This wording is not as strong as we had hoped, but it is the first time fossil fuels have ever been explicitly mentioned in a final agreement (in almost 30 years of climate COPs) and as the UN Climate Chief Simon Stiell said, it is the ‘beginning of the end’ for fossil fuels.

This issue is at the heart of climate action and this agreement was long overdue.

COP28 in Dubai

What else was decided?

There are other key outcomes from this COP which give us reasons for hope:

  • The first ever Global Stock Take includes references to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework – the link between biodiversity loss and the climate crisis and ‘protecting, conserving and restoring nature…’ using not only science but Indigenous Peoples knowledge.
  • The newly established Loss and Damage fund, which if you will recall was implemented on the very first day of the conference, making it an historic moment. This fund now sits at $792 million which will go to developing nations in need, recognising that they have been most affected by climate impacts.
  • The Global Goal on Adaptation, designed to “ensure an adequate adaptation response” to protect people, livelihoods and ecosystems, talks about the multi-stakeholder approach to adaptation needed, using knowledge from different sectors of society.

Successes for biodiversity, food and farming

More specifically focused on the intertwined climate and nature crises, we welcome two new initiatives coming out of this COP.

1.COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action

The acknowledgement and recognition of the adverse impacts of climate change on agriculture and food systems, and on billions of people including smallholders that are dependent on their resilience for food and livelihoods, is a great step in the right direction. Just two years ago, there was little or no mention of this issue, yet 158 governments endorsed the Declaration at COP28.

2. COP28 Joint Statement on Climate, Nature and People 

This was an absolutely vital step in ensuring the climate and biodiversity crises are no longer considered as separate issues. We have known for a long time that they are fundamentally and intrinsically linked, and this is the first step in connecting the outcomes of the UNFCCC COP28 and the recently adopted Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

This announcement was made: ‘At COP28 during Nature, Land Use and Ocean Day, we affirm that there is no path to fully achieve the near- and long-term goals of the Paris Agreement or the 2030 goals and targets of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework without urgently addressing climate change, biodiversity loss and land degradation together in a coherent, synergetic and holistic manner, in accordance with the best available science.’

Eighteen governments have endorsed this declaration so far and we need to see many more signing up to this joined-up approach in the weeks ahead.

bird standing in a field of grass

We’re going to keep talking about grasslands

At Plantlife, we work tirelessly to bring the value of grasslands to the forefront of conversations around farming, nature, biodiversity and climate, both in the UK and internationally. Covering more than half the Earth’s land surface and with the livelihoods of around 800 million people depending on them, the importance of grasslands and savannahs cannot be underestimated.

More generally, this COP marked a turning point for the role of Indigenous Peoples and the recognition of their contribution in not only safeguarding 80% of the world’s biodiversity, but their knowledge in living in true harmony with nature. Adopting this way of thinking will be a pivotal step in combating the climate crisis. Plantlife is aware of the importance of Indigenous knowledge particularly when it comes to Important Plant Areas (IPAs), with one of the criteria for identification being related to cultural significance.

You can read more about IPAs here specifically the Chiquitano people of Bolivia who identified 18 IPA sites to protect the Chiquitano dry forest which many of the community depend on for their food and livelihoods.

It is safe to say there was a healthy dose of concern and scepticism about this COP. What would come out of it? Would this be ambitious enough to secure a safe future for generations to come – from large cities in the Global North to the Small Island Developing States on the frontline of the climate crisis? The reference to fossil fuels and the language in the final text can be considered a win, but now we look to parties to solidify the ‘how’ and the ‘when’ of implementing the measures to ensure we stay at or below 1.5 degrees of warming.

One thing is crystal clear: we are at a pivotal moment, for the stability of our planet and all life on Earth, and Plantlife will keep working to show how wild plants and fungi can be at the heart of the solution.

A Day Volunteering at a Nature Reserve
person smiling

A Day Volunteering at a Nature Reserve

Find out what it's like to volunteer at one of our nature reserves. Jim Whiteford describes a day working outdoors, protecting and restoring nature in Deep Dale, Derbyshire.

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?
No Mow May lawn with Bulbous Buttercup and Meadow saxifrage

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?

Thousands of people across the country have been letting it grow for #NoMowMay this year – and this is what it looks like!

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 
person holding a plant with white flowers

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 

The beautiful mountain plant, Rosy Saxifrage, has returned to the wild in Wales after becoming extinct in 1962.  

As I write this, I’m eating a piece of toast. As you read this, you may be eating something too. All 8.1 billion of us need food. Just like other types of consumption, such as oil and gas, our food consumption requires and releases energy. In fact, the food system is responsible for more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans.

two brown cows grazing in a field

Why we’re all talking about food

It therefore makes sense that food is a central focus of the climate Conference of the Parties (CoP28) taking place at the moment in Dubai.

The CoP28 theme today is ‘Food and Agriculture’, which is a good opportunity to put down my toast and highlight some of the food and agriculture discussions at CoP28, and what they mean for wild plants and fungi.

Wild plants and fungi – not just for lunch, but for climate

We rely on wild plants and fungi for so much, however they are the overlooked centrepieces at the heart of all ecosystems.

Take grasslands: the livelihoods of around 800 million people depend on them and they cover more than 50% of the world’s land.

Imagine nomadic reindeer herders navigating the Steppes in Mongolia, or small-scale pastoralists grazing their livestock on Kenyan savannahs. Humans are part of a virtuous Venn diagram, with grasslands at the centre:

  • food is produced from the livestock
  • the livestock provide the grazing needed to maintain a balanced grassland ecosystem
  • the healthy ecosystem stores carbon and is also more resilient to the impacts of climate change
Small square hay bailer in field

But not all agriculture is equal…

It’s important to differentiate this approach to grassland management from the more intensive farming, that shatters the mutualistic relationship between people and the natural environment.

Intensive, large-scale agriculture relies on greenhouse gas-emitting synthetic fertilisers and ploughing, with tightly packed livestock damaging the sensitive flora and degrading the soil.

That’s why we’re looking to world leaders at CoP28 to recognise the value of healthy grasslands and savannahs as part of a sustainable food system, that helps boost biodiversity and tackle climate change.

We need joined-up action across governments and their policies tackling farming, food security, public health, nature & net zero.

CoP28 announcement

At CoP28, 134 countries have signed up to the United Arab Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, committing to integrate food into their climate plans by 2025.

This could be an important step towards real action to bring down emissions from global agriculture, in tandem with supporting farmers, pastoralists, and smallholders who farm in a low-carbon way.

However, alongside real action there’s also real risk – of greenwashing. We should be sceptical of subsidies that still go towards funding intensive agriculture, or untested technological solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We’ll be watching how governments put this Declaration into practice.

Food for thought

Of course, it remains to be seen whether governments will make tangible commitments to actually shift food production away from intensive agricultural practices.

Will governments stop harmful agricultural subsidies and instead pay and support less intensive farming, that helps restore swathes of degraded grassland?

Will they ignore the huge farming and fertiliser lobby to help farmers break free from costly input cycles?

Will the rights of indigenous people and local communities to their land and traditional pastoralism be respected?

We want the protection, sustainable management, and restoration of healthy grasslands to be meaningfully incorporated into countries’ climate and biodiversity strategies.  

As I finish my meal, these are the questions I will ponder ahead of CoP28’s final few days. The solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises are by no means bitesize, but I have hope, if we’re all sat together at the same table. 

Jo Riggall

A Day Volunteering at a Nature Reserve
person smiling

A Day Volunteering at a Nature Reserve

Find out what it's like to volunteer at one of our nature reserves. Jim Whiteford describes a day working outdoors, protecting and restoring nature in Deep Dale, Derbyshire.

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?
No Mow May lawn with Bulbous Buttercup and Meadow saxifrage

What does a No Mow May lawn look like?

Thousands of people across the country have been letting it grow for #NoMowMay this year – and this is what it looks like!

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 
person holding a plant with white flowers

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 

The beautiful mountain plant, Rosy Saxifrage, has returned to the wild in Wales after becoming extinct in 1962.  

Every autumn one of the UK’s most colourful natural displays takes place: jewel-coloured waxcaps emerge through the grass across our countryside, cities and even some of our gardens. Let’s find them!

A pink mushroom

How to identify waxcaps

Waxcaps are types of mushrooms known for their shiny-looking caps. Together with other types of fascinatingly named fungi called pinkgills, earthtongues, club and coral fungi – they form a group called “grassland fungi”.

Waxcaps and grassland fungi come in a rainbow of different colours including vibrant violets, yellows, greens and pinks.

They also come in weird and wonderful shapes, which can help you to identify the species you’re looking at.

Where can I find waxcaps in the UK?

Chris Jones is the Warden at the Kenfig National Nature Reserve, one of our Dynamic Dunescapes sites, and has worked as a practical conservationist for over 25 years.

Kenfig is one of the largest sand dune systems in Wales and provides a unique habitat for a variety of rare and specialised species, including over 20 species of Waxcap fungi.

Violet coloured fungus with branches looking like coral on a green grassy area.

Chris’ tips on where to find waxcaps near you:

‘Waxcap fungi are commonly found in grasslands and meadows, and they are known for their ecological importance. They are often found in areas with short, grazed vegetation, but they can also occur in disturbed habitats, such as lawns and roadside verges.

Waxcaps are mostly found in the late summer and autumn, typically from September to November, depending on the local weather – but you can find them all year round.

Try looking for waxcaps on…

  • Meadows and pastures
  • Coastal grasslands on cliffs and sand dunes
  • Heath and uplands, such as hills and mountains
  • Urban grasslands including lawns, parks, church yards and stately home grounds
  • Roadside verges

The meadows where waxcaps are found are known as ‘waxcap grasslands’. These grasslands need specific conditions for waxcaps to thrive and are becoming rare.

On waxcap grasslands, waxcap fungi form partnerships with plants, where they exchange nutrients with the roots of host plants, benefiting both the fungi and the plants. This only happens in habitats with a high level of biodiversity, which the aims to identify.

Waxcap grasslands need:

  • Well-drained soil
  • To have not been disturbed by farming equipment for a long period of time
  • To have not been fertilised, so are low in soil nutrients
  • Short grass with plenty of moss

Waxcap fungi are fascinating not only for their vibrant colours but also for their significance as indicators of healthy grasslands. Their conservation is important for maintaining biodiversity and preserving these unique and beautiful fungi for future generations to enjoy.

Many waxcap species are considered rare or threatened, primarily due to habitat loss and changes in land management practices such as tree planting and intensive agriculture. If you find any, please record them on the Waxcap Watch app.

I LOVE Waxcaps, they are AMAZING! It is ridiculously hard to pick a favourite, but if I had to choose it would be… all of them.’

Discover Waxcap Species

Field Pansy

Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

Bramble

Bramble

Rubus fruticosus

White Campion

White Campion

Silene latifolia

Species Champions are Members of the Welsh Senedd, chosen to represent threatened species found in their constituency and champion them both within the Senedd and across Wales. Carolyn Thomas MS is deeply passionate about supporting our wildlife, from nature friendly green space management to improving protections for our precious biodiversity.

This year, Carolyn was able to join us and North Wales Wildlife Trust for the big Butterfly Orchid count in our North Wales nature reserve Caeau-Tan-y-Bwlch, in June. Participating in the count meant she was able to contribute first-hand to the monitoring and understanding of a rare and beautiful species. 

We counted the highest number of Greater Butterfly Orchids ever recorded at the reserve in over 40 years – some 9,456 flowering spikes of this rare plant were found within the diverse upland hay meadow near Caernarfon. Carolyn reflected on this important day in her Senedd statement on 28 June: 

Last Saturday, as the Butterfly Orchid species champion, I took part in a Butterfly Orchid count at a wildflower meadow, owned by Plantlife Cymru and managed by the North Wales Wildlife Trust. The meadow was rich in diverse species, which has created habitat in return for many animals and insects, such as butterflies, ladybirds, damselflies, crickets, spiders and tiny frogs. The place was alive and very beautiful.  

It’s more important than ever to take action for meadows

Another visit to a beautiful meadow just outside Mold in north Wales on National Meadows Day gave us the perfect opportunity to discuss some of the threats that our species-rich grasslands face. Our Species Champion was able to see first-hand how a lack of management was allowing scrub to encroach onto the valuable grassland habitat, but also to hear how the efforts of volunteers were protecting the grassland that remained.

Staff and volunteers from Plantlife Cymru and North Wales Wildlife Trust also talked about how incredibly precious fragments of species-rich grassland can too easily slip through the nets of protection and face damage from neglect, but also from development, agricultural use and inappropriate tree planting.

Orchid sward at Cae Blaen Dyffryn

There was also plenty of time just to appreciate the joy of being in such a beautiful place! We were able to admire both Greater and Lesser Butterfly Orchids, as well as Common Spotted Orchids, carpets of Betony and Lady’s Bedstraw, and we were even treated to the sight of a Slow-worm. Some early Field Scabious was just coming into flower, and sheltered sunny meadow areas were alive with butterflies and moths. 

Championing Welsh meadows at the Senedd

In her statement to the plenary ahead of the visit which you can watch here, Carolyn emphasised to the Senedd the vital nature of thriving green spaces and advocated for the protection and restoration of our species-rich grasslands.

Thank you, Carolyn for supporting us in our mission to support grasslands and the wealth of species that rely on them! 

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 
person holding a plant with white flowers

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 

The beautiful mountain plant, Rosy Saxifrage, has returned to the wild in Wales after becoming extinct in 1962.  

Juniper on the Peaks: A Foot High Forest 

Juniper on the Peaks: A Foot High Forest 

Discover the gnarled woodlands on the wildest peaks in Wales, as Robbie Blackhall-Miles reveals the secrets of Eryri’s miniature but magical Juniper forests.

Why the Wild Leek is a Symbol of Wales

Why the Wild Leek is a Symbol of Wales

The Wild Leek has been a symbol of Wales for so long that its stories date back to St David himself.

We are well and truly into summer, and we’ve already witnessed a spectacular succession of wild plants flowering over the last few months. Now that we’ve waved goodbye to the anemones and hawthorn is beginning to fade, we’re welcoming the orchids.

Butterfly orchids are delicate, elegant plants, with a single floral spike bearing many pale, creamy green flowers. Each flower resembles a tiny moth (or butterfly) in flight, with its wings outstretched. They are sweetly scented and can be found growing in a diverse range of habitats, from moors and bogs to woodlands, but most commonly they are found in undisturbed grasslands and meadows. 

The difference between Greater and Lesser Butterfly Orchids

Butterfly orchid differences.

There are two species, Greater Butterfly Orchid Platanthera chlorantha and Lesser Butterfly Orchid Platanthera bifolia. The differences between them takes an expert eye to spot, and are to do with the angle between the pollen bearing organs of the plant (the pollinia).  

Both species are pollinated by moths. At night, the first signal a moth will pick up on is the fragrance of the orchid – once closer the pale flowers will stand out against the darkness.

UK orchids are in trouble 

Unfortunately, both species are experiencing dramatic declines nationally.  Greater butterfly orchid is faring the better of the two but is still classed as Near Threatened in the UK. Lesser butterfly orchid has been assessed as Vulnerable on the UK Vascular Plant Red List and has disappeared from over half of its previous range in the last 50 years. 

Declines across both species are because of changes in agricultural grassland management – these species need consistent management over a long time to thrive. Damaging land use change could include too much (or too little) grazing, drainage of fields, and even addition of chemical fertilisers. Orchids rely on a soil fungus to survive, and agricultural chemicals can kill off this unseen life support network. 

Thankfully, as their habitats are safe and protected within our reserves, these species are still thriving. To be sure of this, every year we participate in the butterfly orchid count to monitor how our populations of these beautiful plants are faring.  

2023’s Butterfly Orchid Count Results 

Why do we count our Butterfly Orchids? 

Monitoring how they are faring is an important part of understanding our reserves and making good management choices. Both our Welsh nature reserves are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and both list the Butterfly Orchids as a notified feature- so there is a legal duty to ensure the populations remain in good condition 

Volunteers counting orchids at Caeau Tan y Bwlch nature reserve

We want to be able to demonstrate that the way we are managing land is benefitting them, and counting the number of orchids each year, and gathering supporting habitat information, can help us adjust our site management when we need to. This enables us to give the orchids the best possible chance they have going forwards. 

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 
person holding a plant with white flowers

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 

The beautiful mountain plant, Rosy Saxifrage, has returned to the wild in Wales after becoming extinct in 1962.  

Juniper on the Peaks: A Foot High Forest 

Juniper on the Peaks: A Foot High Forest 

Discover the gnarled woodlands on the wildest peaks in Wales, as Robbie Blackhall-Miles reveals the secrets of Eryri’s miniature but magical Juniper forests.

Why the Wild Leek is a Symbol of Wales

Why the Wild Leek is a Symbol of Wales

The Wild Leek has been a symbol of Wales for so long that its stories date back to St David himself.

In Britain, agriculture is a dominant force in the plant communities we have, and our farm livestock is key in replicating the impacts of the constant movement of the wild herds of grazing animals that once roamed our countryside. Many, if not all, of our plant communities rely on some form of grazing or vegetation removal to ensure that they survive. 

An understanding of conservation grazing, hay cutting and scrub management can help our most species rich habitats thrive. 

Soay sheep herd, used for grazing and browsing on Berry Head, Devon.

Does grazing with animals help plants?

Overgrazing is one of the key issues for Arctic Alpine species for example, but of course it is not necessarily the only problem. For some, like plants that live in Calcareous grassland, under grazing may as equally be an issue. Or maybe it’s the fact that the plant community isn’t being grazed by the right type of animal? Or is it that it isn’t being grazed at the right time of year? Or that when its grazed there isn’t enough of the animals that need to be grazing it? Or maybe too many? So many questions! 

So how on earth do we please all the species all of the time?

It’s a question I often ask myself, and one that came up when we developed the Tlysau Mynydd Eryri Eryri’s Mountain Jewels project that forms part of Natur am Byth!. With 10 very different plant species and 2 invertebrate species, we must think about multiple different ways to ensure these are all looked after. 

For our tall herb species such as Alpine Saw Wort Saussurea alpina and the Eryri Hawkweed Hieracium snowdoniense we almost certainly need to consider grazing in the Autumn with cattle and maybe a short pulse of grazing in early May.

Mountain Avens

For the Thyme rich calcareous grassland, with its complement of rare eyebrights (like Welsh Eyebright Euphrasia cambrica), that is so important for the Eryri Rainbow beetle Chrysolina cerealis we probably need sheep right up until late April and then not again until a period in late August or September.

For Mountain Avens Dryas octopetala (pictured) we probably don’t want any grazers near it until the winter. If trees or brambles start to dominate a habitat, then we need a herd of goats but if we want some montane scrub of Juniper and Willow with tall herbs around the edges then the goats mustn’t get near. 

What does this mean for other grasslands, like lawns?

By having a combination of all these grazing animals managed and moved into just the right places at just the right time of year we can certainly have a good ‘go’ at getting the conditions right for everything. 

What is interesting about this question though is that it is also applicable to our lawns. #NoMowMay encourages us to leave our lawns un-mown for a whole month. We can extend it into ‘Let it bloom June’ but by then the daisies, dandelions and other short turf flowers of early May will have gone over and been outgrown by a multitude of other species. 

 

How can we ensure we have the widest selection of plants in our lawn throughout the year?

pyramidal orchids and wildflower in garden lawn

How can we ensure we please all the species so we can please all our pollinators? Well, we can make a very good go at it by simulating some of those grazing animals with our strimmer and our lawnmower.

To create just the right tapestry of lawn heights in the garden we can use our mower to create paths through our meadow lawns, changing the flow of the paths (maybe missing out some of the special plants that may have colonised the uncut lawn) on a regular basis. This random cutting aims to simulate grazing animals moving through the landscape. 

Go wild in the garden

We can even simulate the different types of grazing animals by choosing different heights to cut the paths. If you want daisies again make like a sheep and cut it short, if you want Knapweed and Oxeye daisies to reflower later on in the season you can be a cow and cut some of them before they finish flowering, if you get brambles or nettles then browse them down to the floor like a goat.

By leaving some patches long, some patches medium height and some patches short you will make an interesting mosaic of different lawn habitats that suits as many different species as possible. At the end of the year, before the grass starts to go brown and drop its seeds, one of the most important things you can do for your lawn-meadow is to graze it down completely (just like a huge herd of bison on migration would do) and reset the process for next year’s #NoMowMay fun.  

Snowdon Hawkweed

Whether its management of montane grassland and scrub for rare Arctic Alpines or a #NoMowMay lawn, conservation management is an important tool in ensuring we try to please all the species all the time as much as we possibly can. It isn’t a perfectly exact science, and it changes from year to year, and species to species, but the principles are there and for grasslands it’s really just all about the grazing (or mowing). 

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 
person holding a plant with white flowers

Rosy Saxifrage reintroduced into Wales after 62 years extinct 

The beautiful mountain plant, Rosy Saxifrage, has returned to the wild in Wales after becoming extinct in 1962.  

Juniper on the Peaks: A Foot High Forest 

Juniper on the Peaks: A Foot High Forest 

Discover the gnarled woodlands on the wildest peaks in Wales, as Robbie Blackhall-Miles reveals the secrets of Eryri’s miniature but magical Juniper forests.

Why the Wild Leek is a Symbol of Wales

Why the Wild Leek is a Symbol of Wales

The Wild Leek has been a symbol of Wales for so long that its stories date back to St David himself.