No Mow May: A Celebration of Wildflower Power

This spring, traditional British lawns are out. Throughout the month of May, Plantlife urges us to let our gardens be wild with #NoMowMay. This exciting initiative encourages us to embrace a wild lawn this spring, providing plants, invertebrates and other wildlife the opportunity to make our gardens a home. No Mow May could transform your green spaces into a colourful kaleidoscope of flowers you never knew were there. From buttercups to bee orchids, here at NHBS we have had an astonishing array of wildflowers in previous years, and we are hoping that this year will be the same!

Knowing when, and how, to mow your lawn to encourage wildflower growth and minimise grass domination can be confusing, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to supporting native wildlife. In anticipation of May, we outline the important things to consider when maintaining your lawn over the coming seasons.


Tightly manicured garden lawns are unable to host the diverse communities associated with a natural space. The artificially constructed environment, with uniform grass length and limited species, prevents our native wildflowers from blooming and our vital insects from settling. Lawn feeds and fertilisers often used to maintain our lawns can result in unnaturally high levels of soil fertility. Such levels can unintentionally diminish the diversity of flora within our gardens, since native wildflowers are adapted to low-nutrient conditions. Associated with higher carbon emissions, time consumption and overall cost, many are steering clear of a high maintenance lawn this spring. 

A spring-flowering lawn provides a whole host of benefits for the wildlife within our gardens. Opting for a wild, native lawn provides essential breeding habitats, food sources and physical protection for a number of species. These spaces give wildflowers a chance to bloom and set seed, benefitting both insects, and the predators who rely on them.  

 

A bee orchid in the centre, in front of a wild lawn
Our Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera) from #NoMowMay 2022. Image by Oli Haines.

So, how and when should we mow?   

Less is more! Switching up your mowing routine, or refraining from a mow in some areas, is a great way to maximise diversity in your garden. After a short time, your outdoor spaces can flourish into a haven for wildlife. From voles to vetches, and even British reptiles, watch your garden transform from monoculture to a wild refuge.  

Varied grass length, wild edges, or longer patches of lawn are great for attracting local wildlife to your garden. You may find orchids, ox-eye daisy and knapweed in these longer areas, which also provide cover for small mammals that may be wandering through, and shorter areas can boost pollen availability from low-lying flowers, like buttercups and clover. Plantlife advocates for a varied mowing approach with longer patches throughout the garden, alongside shorter areas (aiming to mimic grazing pressures of different herbivorous species in the wild). For instance, you might decide to maintain shorter pathways and areas around patios, but allow other areas of your green spaces to grow freely.  

It is important to remove cuttings after lawn maintenance to prevent excess nitrogen in the soil, thus reducing nitrophilic plants (species with a preference for nitrate rich habitat, typically from fertilisers and the decomposition of organic material) in your garden. ‘Cut and rot’ management can be counterproductive when cultivating wildflowers, as low levels of soil nutrition are preferred by many and will harbour the most diversity. In fact, frequent fertilisation and additional nutrition can result in an overall decline of wildflowers, leading to a dominance of nitrophilic plant species.   

A garden during No Mow May with varied grass length, wildlife corridors and vegetable patches.
A garden with varied grass length during No Mow May. Image by Allan Harris via Flickr.

Knowing when, and how, to mow during the year is key to maximise flowering of wildflower species, while simultaneously preventing grass domination: to do this, it is generally recommended to mow three times a year; early spring, late summer and in autumn.  

A 3-inch, early spring mow is beneficial to kickstart the season, promoting early growth and blooming.  An early mow can also help to tackle nitrophiles, like nettles and cow parsley. This can help to prevent competition, allowing wildflowers to grow undisturbed. However, be wary of mowing too early, as this can prevent wildflower seeding and will impact your gardens growth next year.  

A summer mow in late July, or August, removes the previous growth, encouraging the bloom of wildflowers later in the season. As far as insects are concerned, the later the mow, the better. Insect species tend to hatch in the warmer parts of spring and summer, so a mow in late August will prevent harm to hatching individuals. 

Around late November, an autumn mow can help to promote reseeding and encourages germination in the following spring. Allow the wildflowers in your lawn to finish flowering and let them go to seed, a mow after this allows the seedheads to disperse seeds into your lawn. An autumn cut can also keep grass growth under control, further encouraging germination.  

There are also certain considerations to be wary of when forming wild areas in your garden. These habitats will attract a great number of species, who may make your lawn a home. Best practice involves leaving an area of your lawn untouched to house these species, but if you are looking to tidy up your garden after No Mow May, wildlife must be considered. Wildlife in our lawns can be harmed in the process of tidying up our outside spaces. It is recommended to disturb, or walk through patches to be maintained to shoo species from the area. On the first mow, start with a higher cut to give smaller animals a chance to escape. When mowing the lawn, start with garden paths and areas of high footfall, working toward the edges of the garden. This, again, provides wildlife with an escape route through the boundaries of your garden. If your garden has fences or hedgerows, a wildlife corridor along your borders is another way to support visiting animals. Untouched, or lightly managed, strips along these areas can provide a safe space for travel around the garden, providing cover and protection from predators.  

hedgehog looking out from a bush
Hedgehog by Kalle Gustafsson via Flickr.

How can we prepare for No Mow May?  

If you currently use fertilisers, lawn feed, moss killers or pesticides, abandoning the use of these additives in your garden will allow the soil to recover from these harmful chemicals. This can provide microscopic and invertebrate soil communities a chance to recover, improving the overall health of your soil.  

For some of us, early bloomers may already be present in our gardens. Cowslip, violets and primroses may be popping up on our lawns, showcasing the first few flowers of the season. You may consider allowing these to go undisturbed, giving them a head start for spring. Having said that, the best way to prepare for No Mow May is a 3-inch April cut to encourage a strong period of spring growth.  

Whether or not you decide to mow the lawn this spring, consider leaving an area of your garden wild. Whether this be a natural lawn or rough borders, we hope you feel inspired to take part in this year’s #NoMowMay! 

 

Gardening for Wildlife: Creating Habitat

In the first of our two-part series, Gardening for Wildlife: Providing Food, we looked at how to attract wildlife to your garden by including plants for pollinators and providing food for birds and mammals. In the second of our two-part ‘Gardening for Wildlife’ series, we look at how to create nesting or overwintering habitat effectively for the wildlife that visits your garden. Natural nesting sites for birds, insects and mammals have become rare in the broader landscape due to changes in farming, woodland management practices and building construction techniques. Wildlife-friendly gardens can provide fantastic habitat for invertebrates, birds, amphibians and mammals by making a few simple changes and by letting a bit of wildness back in.

Mining Bee © Ed Phillips

Insects

It is easy to provide habitat for insects in your garden just by leaving the lawnmower in the shed. Setting aside a patch of grass to grow longer should encourage wildflowers to grow in your lawn, and will provide food and shelter for insects and small mammals. Creating a log pile in which beetles, woodlice and earwigs can shelter is also an easy way to increase garden wildlife habitat. You can provide additional nesting space for solitary bees or overwintering quarters for other insects by creating or installing an insect house. These can be homemade and constructed to your own design, or you can purchase purpose made houses. These are particularly important for solitary bees, who use tunnels in wood, mortar, plant stems or artificial houses to nest. They lay eggs and place a food source in a series of cells, and then block the entrance with materials such as mud, leaves or fine hair. Other nest sites can be provided by leaving dead wood and stems standing and leaving a patch of bare earth or mud bank for mining bees.

Vivara Pro Seville Nest Box

Bird Boxes

Providing bird boxes in your garden can be an excellent way of helping wildlife, as natural nest sites can be rare due to changes in house construction and woodland management techniques. There is a vast array of nest boxes available for many different species of birds, so it is worth knowing which bird species visit your garden before selecting a box. A good place to start is by providing a nest box with a 32mm entrance hole that is suitable for house sparrows or blue and great tits, who are enthusiastic occupiers of nest boxes. Most nest boxes are made of breathable materials such as wood or wood fibres mixed with concrete (Woodcrete or WoodStone). The advantage of Woodcrete and WoodStone nest boxes is that they are much more durable and can last for 10 years or more. Purpose-built nest boxes are available for many different species such as swifts, treecreepers and even robins. For more details on our most popular nest boxes, please see our series of blog posts on nest boxes suitable for different locations. For more details on where to hang your nest box, please see our blog post

Image by Peter O’Connor via Flickr.

Mammals

Gardens are extremely important for hedgehogs and can provide excellent opportunities for foraging and hibernation. Leaving a pile of fallen leaves or a log pile can give them a place to shelter during the daytime or you can choose to invest in a hedgehog nest box. These can provide a safe place for hedgehogs to sleep or hibernate – there is even the option of installing a nest box camera so that you can watch footage of them using the box.

Hedgehogs can travel up to 2km each night, eating as they go. Allowing them to move freely between gardens is important to ensure that they can obtain enough food and find safe spaces to sleep. If you have a garden fence, cut a hole at the bottom measuring 13 x 13cm to allow hedgehogs to pass through on their nightly wanderings. You could also remove a brick from the bottom of a wall or dig a channel underneath. 

Bats also use gardens for foraging, so increasing the number of invertebrates in your garden will help to attract them. Bats naturally roost in a variety of spaces including holes in trees. With natural cavities being rare, providing a bat box can be a great way of helping them and our series of blog posts on the top bat boxes for different locations, and our advice on where to hang your bat box is a great place to start. The best time to watch them is at dusk when you can sit in the garden and see them whizzing around catching mosquitoes. Alternatively, you can invest in a bat detector and identify the species visiting your garden. For both bats and hedgehogs, connectivity to other patches of suitable habitat is key. Hedgehogs use hedgerows or need access through fences to be able to visit multiple gardens, and bats use treelines and hedgerows when foraging.

Image by Erik Paterson via Flickr.

Amphibians and Aquatic Invertebrates

The easiest way to help aquatic invertebrates and amphibians is by creating a pond or small body of water. Even if you have a small garden, you can create a mini pond with an old belfast sink or a washing up bowl. Choose a warm, sunny spot that will be good for dragonflies and tadpoles, consider planting a few native freshwater plants and wildlife such as pond skaters, damselflies and water beetles should soon find the spot. Please ensure that ponds are positioned with safety in mind if you have children, and that you include rocks or sloping edges so that wildlife can get in and out. There are fantastic guides to creating a pond available, such as the Wildlife Pond Book, and once your pond is up and running you can even try some pond dipping. It is not recommended to collect frogspawn from the wild, but you can encourage amphibians into your garden by providing damp areas such as log piles or a frog and toad house.

Watching Wildlife

Having attracted wildlife to your garden, there are several ways you can get fantastic views up close.  Binoculars give you a great view of wildlife that is further away, but with close focus distances now much improved, they also offer a great way of magnifying insects and aquatic invertebrates. Read our blog post to find out how to choose a pair of binoculars. Alternatively, trail cameras can be used very effectively in gardens to record garden visitors such as hedgehogs and birds. These standalone weatherproof cameras use passive infrared to detect passing warm-bodied animals and take either still photographs or videos. For more information on trail cameras, see our blog post on how to choose a trail camera. For a really close-up insight into what the wildlife in your garden is doing, consider installing a nest box camera. See our guide on how to choose a nest box camera for advice on the different options. A hedgehog nest box camera can also give you really amazing footage of hedgehogs feeding and nesting.

By providing food resources and suitable habitat for wildlife, you can ensure that your garden becomes a sanctuary for the animals around you and a spectacle of nature right on your doorstep.

Recommended Reading

The Wildlife Pond Book
#246688

This offers a fresh and unique perspective on ponds, encouraging readers of any budget to reach for the spade and do something positive to benefit their shared neighbourhood nature.

 

 

Guide to Garden Wildlife
#246618

Even the smallest garden can be an important haven for wildlife, and this authoritative guide enables everyone to explore this wealth on their back doorstep. It covers all the main animal groups – including pond life – likely to be found in a garden in Great Britain and Ireland.

 

Making Wildlife Ponds
#231864

This guide can help you create an aquatic habitat in your garden, home to stunning, brightly coloured damsel- and dragonflies with iridescent eyes, amphibians which choose to breed, and birds and mammals of many kinds that come to drink at such placid waters, including hedgehogs

 

Nestboxes: Your Complete Guide
#241181

Building your own nestbox and watching a pair of birds raise a successful brood will bring pleasure to the whole family, and this book provides all you need to know to get started. Written by Dave Cromack and drawing on the BTO’s expertise, this provides the perfect guide to building, erecting and monitoring nestboxes for a broad range of bird species.

 

FSC Freshwater Name Trail
#175156

Aimed at KS2 and above, this 8-page fold-out chart is a fully illustrated key to help users identify the main animal groups found in freshwater. None of the identification in the key goes beyond family level, and some of it stays at the phylum or class.

 

 

Recommended Garden Products

Bee Brick
#244140

 

 

BeePot Bee Hotel
#244760

 

 

 

 

Vivara Pro Seville 32mm WoodStone Nest Box
#234956

 

 

 

 

Brecon FSC Nest Box
#252721

 

 

 

 

 

Vivara Pro Barcelona WoodStone Open Nest Box
#234963

 

 

 

 

 

Hedgehog Nest Box
#179141

 

 

 

 

Large Multi-Chamber WoodStone Bat Box
#246918

 

 

 

 

 

Magenta Bat 5 Bat Detector
#171849

 

 

 

 

 

NHBS Pond Dipping Kit
#244947

 

 

 

Top 10 Bird Boxes for Walls and Fences

Vivara Pro WoodStone House Martin NestWelcome to the second in a series of three posts designed to help you choose the best bird box for your garden or other outdoor space.

This article includes a list of our top 10 bird boxes for positioning on a wall or fence. The first and third posts cover the best options for installing on a tree in a garden, park or woodland and for building into a new build or development.

For each box we have provided a quick guide to the material that it is made from, the dimensions, and the species that the box is suitable for. Follow the links provided for more information about the box, including pricing and availability, or contact our customer services team for more advice.


1. NHBS Wooden Bird Nest Box

• Made from: Softwood (FSC)
• Dimensions: 245 x 135 x 185mm
• Suitable for: Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Marsh Tits, Crested Tits

 

2. Vivara Pro WoodStone House Sparrow Nest Box (Double Chamber)

• Made from: Woodstone
• Dimensions: 160 x 290 x 210mm
• Suitable for: House Sparrows, Redstart, Spotted Flycatchers

 

3. Dual Chamber Sparrow Terrace

• Made from: Woodstone
• Dimensions: 360 x 220 x 180mm
• Suitable for: House Sparrows

 

4. Vivara Pro WoodStone Swift Nest Box

• Made from: Woodstone
• Dimensions: 245 x 380 x 265mm
• Suitable for: Swifts

 

5. House Martin Nests (Double Entrance)

• Made from: Woodstone and plywood
• Dimensions: 115 x 160 x 380mm
• Suitable for: House Martins

 

 

FSC Wooden Swift Box6. FSC Wooden Swift Box

• Made from: Softwood (FSC)
• Dimensions: 210 x 430 x 210mm
• Suitable for: Swifts

 

Eco Barn Owl Nest Box7. Eco Barn Owl Nest Box

• Made from: Recycled plastic and FSC timber
• Dimensions: 670 x 660 x 530mm
• Suitable for: Barn Owls

 

8. Ceramic Swallow Bowl

• Made from: Ceramic and FSC timber
• Dimensions: 125 x 202 x 125mm
• Suitable for: Swallows

 

9. Eco Small Bird Box

• Made from: Recycled plastic and FSC oriented strand board
• Dimensions: 260 x 170 x 170mm
• Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Marsh Tits, Great Tits, Crested Tits, Tree Sparrows, House Sparrows, Nuthatches and Pied Flycatchers (species depend on entrance hole size).

 

Vivara Pro Seville Nest Box10. Vivara Pro Seville 32mm WoodStone Nest Box

• Made from: Woodstone
• Dimensions: 310 x 200 x 200mm
• Suitable for: Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Marsh Tits, Crested Tits, Redstart, Nuthatches, Pied Flycatchers, House Sparrows, Tree Sparrows

Browse our full range of nest boxes for external walls and fences.


The full range of nest boxes can be found in our online shop, as well as a useful nest box price list which can be downloaded as a pdf.

 

Top 10 Bird Boxes for New Builds and Developments

Vivara Pro House Sparrow Nest BoxThis is the final post in a three part series, designed to help you choose from our bestselling bird boxes. All of the boxes listed below are suitable for building into the masonry of a new build or development.

The previous two posts provide suggestions of boxes suitable for positioning on a tree in a garden, park or woodland, and for siting on a wall or fence.

For each box we have provided a quick guide to the material that it is made from, the box dimensions and the species that it is suitable for. Follow the links provided for full descriptions, pricing and availability, or contact our customer services team to chat about finding the box that’s right for your needs.


Schwegler 1SP Sparrow Terrace1. Schwegler 1SP Sparrow Terrace

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Dimensions: 245 x 430 x 200mm
• Suitable for: House Sparrows, Tree Sparrows

 

2. Vivara Pro WoodStone House Sparrow Nest Box (Double Chamber)

• Made from: WoodStone
• Dimensions: 160 x 290 x 210mm
• Suitable for: House Sparrows, Tree Sparrows

 

3. Dual Chamber Sparrow Terrace

• Made from: Wood-concrete
• Dimensions: 260 x 220 x 180mm
• Suitable for: House Sparrows

4. PRO UK Rendered Build-in Swift Box

• Made from: WoodStone
• Dimensions: 140 x 440 x 150mm
• Suitable for: Swifts

5.  Manthorpe Swift Brick

• Made from: PVC and polypropylene
• Dimensions: 347 x 200 x 153mm
• Suitable for: Swifts

 

6. Swift Block (Large)

• Made from: Concrete (75% from waste)
• Dimensions: 215 x 440 x 160mm
• Suitable for: Swifts

7. WoodStone Build-in Swift Nest Box Deep

• Made from: WoodStone
• Dimensions: 180 x 420 x 155mm
• Suitable for: Swifts

 

8. Schwegler Brick Nest Box: Type 24Schwegler Brick Nest Boxes

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Dimensions: 235 x 180 x 180mm
• Suitable for: Great Tits, Blue Tits, Marsh Tits, Coal Tits, Crested Tits, Redstart, Nuthatches, Tree Sparrows and House Sparrows

9. Orlando Swift Box

• Made from: Wood concrete
• Dimensions: 350 x 220 x 180mm
• Suitable for: Swifts, House Sparrows, Starlings

Starling Box Smooth Brick

10. Starling Box – Smooth Brick

• Made from: Concrete and brick
• Dimensions: 215 x 215 x 150mm
• Suitable for: Starlings, Tree Sparrows, Blue Tits, and Great Tits

Browse our full range of build-in nest boxes.


The full range of nest boxes can be found in our online shop, as well as a useful nest box price list which can be downloaded as a pdf.

 

Top 10 Bird Boxes for Trees and Woodland

So, you have the perfect space in mind for a bird box but don’t know which one to buy? No problem – this is the first in a series of three posts designed to help you make the right choice.

This article includes a list of our top 10 bird boxes for positioning on a tree in a garden, park or woodland. The following two articles will cover the best bird boxes for positioning on a wall or fence and for building into a new build or development.

For each box we have provided a quick guide to the material that it is made from, the dimensions of the box and the species that it is suitable for. Follow the links for more information about each item, or contact us to speak to one of our customer services advisors who can provide you with help in choosing the right product.


1. Schwegler 1B Nest Box

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Dimensions: 230 x 160 x 160mm
• Suitable for: Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Marsh Tits, Crested Tits, Great Tits, Nuthatches, Tree Sparrows, House Sparrows, Redstart (species depend on entrance size and shape).

 

2. NHBS Wooden Bird Nest Box

• Made from: Softwood (FSC)
• Dimensions: 245 x 135 x 185mm
• Suitable for: Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Marsh Tits, Crested Tits (species depend on entrance size).

 

3. Vivara Pro Barcelona WoodStone Open Nest Box

• Made from: Woodstone
• Dimensions: 240 x 190 x 175mm
• Suitable for: Wrens, Robins, Spotted Flycatchers, Pied and Grey Wagtails, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds.

4. Brecon FSC Nest Box

• Made from: Wood (FSC)
• Dimensions: 200 x 160 x 270mm
• Suitable for: Great tits, House Sparrows and Nuthatches.

 

5. Treecreeper FSC Nest Box

• Made from: Softwood (FSC)
• Dimensions: 130 x 350 x 125mm
• Suitable for: Treecreepers.

 

 

6. Small Bird Nest Box

• Made from: Plywood
• Dimensions: 300 x 130 x 150mm
• Suitable for: Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Marsh Tits, Treecreepers, Tree Sparrows, Great Tits, Crested Tits, Nuthatches and Pied Flycatchers (species depends on entrance size).

 

7. Schwegler 3S Starling Nest Box

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Dimensions: 280 x 190 x 200mm
• Suitable for: Starlings and overnight shelter for Woodpeckers.

 

8. Starling Nest Box

• Made from: Exterior grade plywood
• Dimensions: 510 x 160 x 180mm
• Suitable for: Starlings.

 

9. 2GR Schwegler Nest Box

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Dimensions: 510 x 160 x 180mm
• Suitable for: Nuthatches, Redstart, Tree Sparrows, House Sparrows, Pied Flycatchers, Blue Tits, Marsh Tits, Great Tits (species depends on entrance size).

10. Blackbird FSC Nest Box

• Made from: Softwood (FSC)
• Dimensions: 185 x 250 x 215mm
• Suitable for: Tree Sparrows, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Crested Tits, Pied Flycatchers.

 

Browse our full range of nest boxes for trees and woodland.


The full range of NHBS bird boxes can be found in our online shop, as well as a useful nest box price list which can be downloaded as a pdf.

 

Supplier interview with Faunus Nature Creations

Black bat box on tree in foreground with a bunch of other boxes on trees in the background

Faunus Nature Creations is an ecological design agency established in 2018 as a subsidiary of NatuurInclusief. They focus on designing, building and selling fauna facilities to create nature-inclusive urban living environments and are widely recognised for their creative nest boxes. Most of their products are made in-house and they work closely with their suppliers and partners to ensure both functionality and beautiful design.

We had the opportunity to speak with Jarno Beijk, the founder of Faunus Nature Creations, about the company, their range of nest boxes and plans for the future.


What inspired the creation of Faunus Nature Creations?  

Faunus wood concrete General Purpose bat box in black.
Faunus General Purpose Bat Box.

Faunus Nature Creations (FNC) was founded in 2018 as a business unit part of ecological consulting agency NatuurInclusief.  At NatuurInclusief we regularly had to deal with mitigation projects as compensation for bat roosts getting disturbed. During field checks of these bat boxes, we discovered that the quality of the materials used were rapidly deteriorating. They did not meet any of the quality requirements and longevity that we wanted and expected from the bat boxes. From this moment the only solution we saw was to roll up our sleeves and design and build better nest boxes ourselves. Currently we are doing this with a team of ecologists, designers, engineers and architects. 

Could you tell us about the range of boxes produced by Faunus and which animals they are suitable for?  

In the beginning, our main focus was on roost boxes for bats, and nest boxes for House Sparrows and Swifts. The reason behind this choice is because they are the most strictly protected species by law. Fortunately, there is increasing awareness of building and designing in a more nature-inclusive manner, which means that there is increasing interest in nest boxes for other species as well. This includes species such as Kestrels, Storks, insects, and ground dwelling mammals etc. 

Integrated wood concrete bird box, Pino model, in a light brick wall with a swift poking its head out of the hole on the left hand side.
Pino built-in swift box.

Many of the boxes you offer are made from wood concrete. Could you tell us some of the benefits of using this material, both for the user and for the animal?  

All our fauna facilities are designed with the needs and requirements of the species in mind. Wood concrete has a long lifespan, also the hydrothermal modified wood that we use has a lifespan of more than 20 years. It is therefore mainly down to the preference of the user. 

Mario dual chamber wood concrete sparrow terrace box shown on the side of a dark red bricked house.
Mario dual chamber sparrow terrace box.

Wooden facilities are not suitable as a build-in option. For this, the better choice is going for wood concrete or even better for a ceramic option. The latter have the longest longevity. 

A great disadvantage of using wood-concrete and ceramics is that they do not lend themselves well for custom work. Therefore, wood is a very good option for custom work. That is why we make custom wooden bat boxes on request in all kinds of shapes and sizes. When customisation is required to be built-in, we make these on the basis of a cement board. 

Personally, we think wood is the most beautiful for external use, because it looks more natural, but other people appreciate the concrete look as well. You will not easily find plywood in our collection, because we find this material is insufficiently durable and has too short of a lifespan. 

Many of my colleagues have taken a liking to the names of your boxes, for example, Elisa and Gabriella. How do you decide these names?  

Three Faunus bat boxes, models Elisa and Gabriella, on the side of a red bricked house during the day with blue sky in the background.
Elisa and Gabriella bat boxes.

Every nest box or new design we develop and offer is a new family member to our collection. Each design therefore deserves a unique name and not just a code or number. The intention was to use the names of people in our team first, but some found it quite embarrassing if they had to promote a nest box that would bear their own name. We have therefore given the names a slightly Spanish twist. So, Roos became Rosita and Eva became Evita. Spanish names also sound more swinging than Dutch names. At the moment we have more models than employees, so we have now arrived at names of relatives, neighbours and friends. Our latest model nest box Milo is named after the newborn son of our colleague Roos. Furthermore, the mammal nest boxes have female names, and the bird nest boxes have male names.

Faunus Brigida bat box below the roof of a brick house on a sunny day.
Brigida bat box.

Have you found that environmental regulations have had an impact on the boxes you sell? 

In the Netherlands we have a quite strict Nature Conservation Act. Our authorities require many strict mitigation standards concerning fauna facilities, for example in the form of bat roost boxes and nest boxes. This is a major reason that many of our clients need to buy the products we make. We ourselves are not in favour of this strict legislation, because people will lack intrinsic motivation to do something good for biodiversity in the end. We ourselves believe that you can achieve more for biodiversity if you know how to make people aware and enthusiastic to do something positive for biodiversity. Legislation of this mitigation standards leads to “must do”, enthusiasm leads to “wanting to do”. 

Two Elisa bat boxes half way up two ivy covered trees in a woodland in winter with foliage in the foreground.
Elisa bat boxes on woodland trees.

What can you tell us about plans for new products in the future? 

Faunus Nature Creations does more than just develop fauna facilities. Of course, we will bring new and improved models to the market, but we also design many large custom facilities for biodiversity, such as designing and building bat towers. We noticed that there is a great need for this as well. Governments and project developers would like to show off that they are doing something great and important to boost biodiversity and they would like to have the label extravagant for that too. We think it’s a sport to combine functionality, quality and aesthetics. Our motto is not without reason: Building for Biodiversity. Let’s create something valuable! 


Faunus Products

Black general purpose Faunus bat box with two entrances, one at the front and one on the bottom.

General Purpose Bat Box 

The tree hanging General Purpose Bat Box is designed to suite crevice and cavity dwelling bat species in the UK. Made from wood concrete, this is a durable, long-lasting and breathable bat box offering a thermally stable internal climate for roosting bats and features two entrances, one at the bottom and one on the front.

Green rectangular Elisa bat box with curved entrance at the bottom.

Elisa Bat Box 

The Elisa wood concrete bat box is designed to provide an ideal summer roost and nesting space for a variety of UK bat species. When installed it sits close to the wall to minimise the risk of being knocked off and features a single internal cavity with an entrance hole at the bottom. Supplied without fittings. 

Light brown wooden Faunus Kiki bat and swift hybrid box with two entrances at the bottom.

Kiki Bat and Swift Hybrid Box 

Some swift and bat species can inhabit urban areas and each rely on buildings for roosting and nesting locations. To accommodate for both species, the Kiki hybrid box has four compartments: three for bats and one for swifts. This box can be hung from buildings and provides a suitable habitat for summer roosting. 

Grey wood concrete built-in Pino swift box with a small oval entrance hole on the bottom right hand side of the block.

Pino Built-in Swift Box 

Swifts often create nests in cavities and crevices in the eaves of buildings. The Pino built-in nest box is made from durable and breathable wood concrete, providing a stable internal thermal environment for any inhabitants, and is suitable for house sparrows, starlings and other small urban birds. 


Faunus bird and bat boxes are available to order from nhbs.com.

 

 

No Mow May 2023

In Spring 2023 NHBS have, for the third year running, participated in Plantlife’s #NoMowMay initiative. We’ve requested that the grass areas around our premises are spared from mowing for the duration of the month of May, allowing a host of flowering plants to expand and in some cases complete their flowering cycle.  

May is a vital time in the lives of many flowering plants, as they grow up in a rush after the winter months of dormancy in the soil to meet the pollinators upon whom they rely for regeneration. In our gardens and municipal green spaces, we tend to keep lawns tamed and green by regularly mowing and clearing out flowering plants in favour of a neat and uniformed low-cut grass. This has benefits for us in some of our recreation activities, but it wreaks havoc on our ecosystems. If pollinating invertebrate species can’t find the flowers they rely on, they disappear from an area, which also has a knock-on effect on the species that need the invertebrates as a food source, and the flowering plants that need them to spread their pollen and reproduce. Over time, this fragments habitats and drives down both biodiversity and abundance of species. 

So, by committing to #NoMowMay, no matter what size of a green space you have, you offer real potential for reconnection between plants and their pollinators, which in turn supports a greater number of birds, bats and other mammals large and small, including us! 

This year, after quite a wet spell of late winter weeks with cold winds blowing through, May arrived with a warm embrace of pleasant sunshine that supported a quick growth of many flowering plants. Early flowers here were the Cut-leaved Crane’s-bill (Geranium dissectum), Common Vetch (Vicia sativa) and Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis), that spread rigorously through the grass along with a matt of Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens). As soon as mowing ceased Daisies (Bellis perennis) and Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) flowered throughout, alongside Dandelions (Taraxacum officinalis), Spotted Medick (Medicago arabica) and Herb-robert (Geranium robertianum). Many of the species present this year are listed in our species tally from last year (See our No Mow May 2022 blog here for a more comprehensive plant list).  

This year, it’s been a real wonder to witness some more of the invertebrate life across our May meadow. In the still warm sunshine, we’ve seen a fair few bumble, honey and solitary bee species dashing by, some impressive wasps and flies (including scorpion flies) and, owing to our riverside location, we’ve started seeing Mayflies and Damselflies in the last week or so. There’s been some fleeting glimpses of spiders sunning themselves on the walls and walkways and a beautiful Nursery Web spider (Pisaura mirabilis) touring the vegetation.  

Along the edges of the plot here where trees and shrubs tower up, surrounded by Cleavers (Galium aparine), Brambles and Docks, we’ve found a few small green weevils (that we’re struggling to ID beyond the subfamily of Entiminae) and Red-and-black Froghoppers (Cercopis vulnerate) – plus, a short distance away we were delighted to encounter an incredible Horned Treehopper (Centrotus cornutus)! There’s also been a regular meeting of Iris Weevils (Mononychus punctumalbum) on the blue marking flags we had put out to highlight points of particular interest.  

We’ve had regular visits from Orange-tip butterflies (Anthocharis cardamines), Holly Blues’ (Cauchas rufimitrella), Peacock (Aglais io) and Green-veined White Butterflies (Pieris napi) throughout the month, and, when the afternoon sun has been particularly strong, a handful of beautiful Meadow Long-horn moths (Cauchas rufimitrella) have gathered in a shimmering dance around the blooming Cuckooflowers. We’ve also been treated to some short appearances of a Burnet Companion moth (Euclidia glyphica) as they quickly nipped between the vetch flowers. 

We’re hoping that we can leave the plants a little longer into June again this year, as there’s still some remarkable species yet to flower, and it’s such a delight to see so many invertebrates thriving alongside the plants in this wayside patch. Suffice it to say if this place had kept to the same mowing schedule as some other local verges, there’d be little or no opportunity for the plants or their pollinators to proliferate or regenerate, and that’s without even considering the benefits to us humans of allowing and encouraging this dynamic ecosystem. Small contribution as it may be in the grand scheme of things.  

We hope you’ve been inspired to join in with Plantlife’s #NoMowMay this year too, or perhaps through June, and next summer too! We sell a wide range of handy books for identifying wild plants and animals, and there’s a growing number of books that are helpful resources for gardening for wildlife! 


 Suggested reading

The Book of Wildling

 

 

 

 

 

The Biodiversity Gardener

 

 

 

 

 

Wildlife Gardening 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wild Flower Key 

 

 

 

 

 

Britain’s Insects 

 

 

 

 

 

Collins Wild Flower Guide 

 

 

 

 

 

Harrap’s Wild Flower Guide 

 

 

 

 

 

A Field Guide to Grasses, Sedges and Rushes 

The NHBS Introduction to Habitats: Sand Dunes

Sand dunes in New Brighton, Merseyside, UK by Andrew Mason via Flickr

Coastal sand dunes are habitats created by sand, seashell fragments and other sediments that are moved by wave and wind action along a coastline or beach until they become trapped above the strandline. This usually occurs where vegetation is growing as their roots and leaves help to bind the sand together, preventing the sand from being blown away by the wind. There are several different types of sand dunes, categorised by their position on the shoreline, age, morphology and stability:

  • Embryo dunes: The youngest dunes at their earliest stage of development, usually closest to the shore and may still be covered by high tides. This area usually has high salinity and is a very dry environment with rapid drainage and a lot of exposure. 
  • Mobile dunes: These are dunes that are no longer covered by the highest tide but are still affected by wind; sand gets blown from the beach onto, over and away from these areas. 
  • Semi-fixed dunes: This is where vegetation cover has become more continuous with fewer areas of bare sand.
  • Fixed dunes: These are dunes that have very limited free space, with few areas of bare sand and almost continuous vegetation. 
  • Dune slack: The low-lying depressions between sand dunes. These areas can often become filled with fresh or brackish water, creating small wetlands known as interdunal wetlands or interdunal ponds. These areas can warm quickly as they’re often very shallow, providing an ideal habitat for many invertebrates. 
  • Dune scrub: A later successional stage, where a stable dune has been colonised with scrub species. These areas can continue to develop into dune-heath and older woodland. 

Sand dunes can be rich in wildlife and are important habitats for birds, reptiles, invertebrates, a variety of plant species, lichens and fungi. This is particularly the case in older, more stable dune habitats. They are classified as UK BAP Priority Habitat and several Priority List species have been recorded utilising sand dunes.

What species can you find here?
Flora

Differences in flora diversity can be found depending on the position, age, morphology and stability of the dunes. Sand dunes that are still inundated at high tide can be dominated by halophilic (salt-tolerant) plants, whereas dune slack areas may be filled with fresh groundwater, allowing them to support several freshwater plant species. Areas of low stability will most likely see lower plant diversity, with the community present dominated by pioneer species. More stable dunes are generally dominated by woody plants and have higher diversity.

Sea sandwort (Honckenya peploides)

S. Rae via Flickr

This is one of several pioneer species usually found in embryo dunes, as it is highly stress-tolerant. These plants allow sand to begin to accumulate, raising the top of the dune above the high tide level, while also adding organic matter to the sand through dying and decaying. This allows the sand dune to better retain water, allowing other plants to colonise the area.

Marram grass (Ammophila arenaria)

Jeremy Halls via Flickr

This is a dune building grass as it is tall and robust, with matted roots, therefore it is very effective at trapping and stabilising sand. It can help to form very high mobile dunes as it grows at a rate of 1m per year. It is usually the dominant plant on mobile dunes and is a familiar sight on many of our coasts. By stabilising the sand and adding nutrients through its dead leaves, this plant can allow sand dunes to be colonised by many other plant species.

Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)

Aecole2010 via Flickr

As sand dunes become more fixed and vegetation cover becomes more continuous, the area can be very species-rich. Many wildflowers, including harebells, can be found there, providing a food source for species such as invertebrates. Due to the wide range of environmental factors in these habitats, such as wind, salinity levels and availability of shelter and fresh water, there is often a huge variety of wildflowers.

Harebells, also called bluebells of Scotland, are tough and resilient plants, living in dry, open areas such as sand dunes.  While their flowering period can vary, it’s usually from July to November in the British Isles, providing a vital source of nectar for bees during the autumn.

For more examples of wildflowers, check out our guide to UK wild flower identification.

Silver birch (Betula pendula)

Andrew Gustar via Flickr

The final successional stages of sand dunes include colonisation by woody plants, creating dune scrubs and, finally, deciduous woodland. These woodland are often lower in species diversity, as woody species out-compete others, but the habitat will remain stable for extended periods, barring any disturbance. The type of vegetation present in the climax stage is determined by a number of factors, such as climate, exposure, soil pH, grazing level and management type. Birch trees are one of the woody species that can colonise sand dunes, particularly acidic dunes with open areas for young birch trees to grow.

Fungi

While fungi are usually associated with damper habitats, there is a variety that can be found in sand dune habitats, such as the earthtongue fungus (Glutinoglossum glutinosum), dune stinkhorn (Phallus hadriani) and several puffball species. There are also rare species that can only be found in sand dunes.

Dune waxcap (Hygrocybe conicoides)

Lukas Large via Flickr

This species of waxcap occurs mainly on short grass in coastal sand dune habitats, such as on the edges of dune slacks. Waxcaps, fungi in the genus of agarics, or gilled fungi, are usually brightly coloured fungi with dry to waxy caps. They are mainly associated with unimproved grasslands, though outside of Europe they are more commonly found in woodland. Dune waxcaps resemble the blackening waxcap (Hygrocybe conica) when young, but older dune waxcaps only darken slightly, usually just on their stem, unlike the blackening waxcap.

Collared Earthstar (Geastrum triplex)

Yankech gary via Flickr

While collared earthstars are most likely found in woodlands, particularly those with a high level of leaf litter, they can also be found on sand dunes. This star-shaped fungus initially looks like a ball, similar to a puffball, before splitting open. Other earthstars, including the dwarf earthstar (Geastrum schmidelii), can also be found in sand dune habitats, particularly mature sand dune systems. They’re often found in colonies with several fruitbodies growing together.

Fauna

Sand dunes support a diverse range of fauna species, many of which are specifically adapted to live in these dynamic habitats. Similarly to shingle beaches, which will be covered in another article, this area is a key habitat for several ground-nesting birds, such as the Ringed Plover and Skylarks, grazing species such as rabbits, and invertebrates such as bees, digger wasps and other insects.

The red-banded sand wasp (Ammophila sabulosa)

Volkmar Becher via Flickr

Sand wasps reproduce by hunting caterpillars, paralysing them using their sting and burying them in burrows with the sand wasp’s egg. The females dig their burrows in sandy ground, with a nearby area of vegetation that would support their prey. Areas of sand dunes can be rich in invertebrate species, particularly where diverse vegetation is present.

Northern Dune Tiger Beetle (Cicindela hybrida)

David Tyler via Flickr

This rare beetle hunts on bare sand, preying on ants, spiders, moth larvae and flies. As they need areas of open, moving sand, they are less likely to be found in older, more stabilised sand dunes. Therefore, lack of management allowing succession and reduced sediment deposition due to development or flood defences reduce the availability of suitable habitats. Conservation efforts to restore mobile sands and remove areas of scrub are helping to provide more habitats for the northern dune tiger beetle. 

Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis)

xulescu_g via Flickr

Sand dunes support a variety of vertebrate species, including the sand lizard, one of the UK’s rarest reptiles. Their distribution is restricted to a small number of sites, such as protected heathlands and sand dunes. They require sunny habitats with vegetation for shelter and undisturbed, open sand to lay their eggs. Their numbers are impacted by habitat loss but there are several conservation efforts working towards increasing their populations. These involve a combination of habitat restoration, monitoring, reintroduction and encouraging beneficial policies and practices.

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

Female. Andy Morffew via Flickr
Male. Caroline legg via Flickr

Several birds of prey use sand dune habitats as hunting grounds due to the presence of ground-nesting birds, lizards and some grazing species such as rabbits. Sparrowhawks can be found across Britain and Ireland, mainly in gardens, woodland and urban settings, but they can also be found on sand dunes, particularly if woodland is close by. They prey mainly on small birds, but they have also been recorded taking bats.

Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)

gailhampshire via Flickr

Once extinct in Britain, Choughs now have a growing population on the Cornish and Welsh coasts, as well as a few other spots around the UK. They hunt invertebrates and larvae in the exposed sandy soils of sand dunes, using their long, curved bills. With only a small population in the UK, it is important to maintain suitable areas of habitats, therefore a number of projects are reintroducing grazing species to dunes. These species help to maintain areas of open ground and short grass, preventing sand dunes from becoming scrubland.

For more information on other species that may occur in sand dune habitats, including reptiles, coastal birds, waders and other mammal and bird species, check out some of our other guides to UK species identification.

Threats

The main threats to coastal sand dunes are development, recreational use, flood defences, falling water tables, climate change, invasive species and poor management. The development of housing, industry and areas such as golf courses can result in the damage or destruction of sand dune habitats. This, along with recreational use, such as excessive pedestrian and vehicular use, can increase levels of erosion and modify vegetation. Fragile sand dune habitats can be altered, reducing their stability and their ability to support diverse wildlife.

Poor management allows encroachment by shrubs and trees that, if left unchecked, could turn sand dune habitats into woodland areas, which can impact their suitability for specialist species. Flood defences can impact the natural processes of sediment removal and deposition, which can prevent sand dunes from developing or growing. These areas can become depleted if there is not enough sediment deposited to replace the amount removed by wind or wave action. The creation of harbours and other coastal structures can also disrupt natural sediment processes. Alternatively, these structures can also prevent sediment removal, causing a build-up of sediment.

Further threats include invasive species, such as cordgrass (Spartina anglica), which can dominate sand dunes, reducing the abundance and diversity of native plant species and reducing the number of animals that the area can support. Climate change can also threaten this habitat, as increasing intensity and frequency of storms can impact how sand dunes are formed. Sea-level rise, in combination with development, can also reduce the amount of area available for this habitat to form; this is termed coastal squeeze.

While grazing is used as a method for controlling over-stabilisation and succession, overgrazing can also impact sand dunes. It can reduce the development and spread of vegetation, preventing sand stabilisation and, therefore, reducing the diversity and abundance of the species the habitat can support. This also allows sand dunes to become depleted by wave or wind action, particularly where structures such as flood defences and development have reduced sediment deposition.

Conservation

To manage the impacts of these threats, many sand dune areas have been given Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) designations, which control the amount of development that can occur. Soft engineering approaches to flood defences including beach replenishment, the restoration of stabilised sand dunes and managed realignment, where areas are allowed to be inundated by the sea, can often be a more natural approach to reducing the impacts of waves compared to hard engineerings, such as sea walls and breakwaters. These can allow the natural process of sediment removal and deposition, facilitating the development of new sand dune environments.

As mentioned, sand dunes are subject to natural habitat succession, often ending in a stable deciduous woodland habitat. To maintain sand dune habitats, encroachment by woody species must be controlled and areas of open, mobile sand should be created as this prevents soil development and, therefore, over-stabilisation.

Areas of significance

Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, Northumberland

Braunton Burrows, North Devon

Holkham NNR, North Norfolk

Kenfig NNR, Glamorgan, South Wales

Forvie NNR, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Further reading

The Biology of Coastal Sand Dunes

Coastal zones are becoming increasingly topical as they face relentless pressure from a number of threats. This book provides a comprehensive introduction to the formation, dynamics, maintenance and perpetuation of coastal sand dune systems.

 

Sand Dune Conservation, Management and Restoration

This book deals with the development of temperate coastal sand dunes and the way these have been influenced by human activity. Options for management are considered and the likely consequences of taking a particular course of action highlighted.

 

Field Guide to Coastal Wildflowers of Britain, Ireland and Northwest Europe

This field guide covers more than 600 species of wildflowers and other coastal flora found in Britain and Ireland, and coastal mainland north-west Europe. Detailed species accounts describe the wildflowers, grasses, sedges and rushes that occur on the coast or in abundance within sight of the sea.

 

Wildflowers of the Sefton Coast

This book describes the typical wildflowers associated with each of the Sefton Coast’s main habitats from the saltmarshes and ‘green beaches’ to the sand-dunes; the latter showing a sequence of successional stages running inland, from the newly-formed strandline and embryo dunes, through mobile and fixed-dunes to older woodland and dune-heath.

 

Beaches and Coasts

A new edition of a unique textbook that provides an exhaustive treatment of the world’s different coasts, with a focus on climate change sea-level rise. Seeking to better educate students and readers about the sustainability of coasts and coastal environment, this exciting book offers enlightening coverage of coastal geology, processes and environments.

Beach and Dune Restoration

This new edition continues the theme of the first edition: the need to restore the biodiversity, ecosystem health, and ecosystem services provided by coastal landforms and habitats, especially in the light of climate change. This will be valuable for coastal scientists, engineers, planners, and managers, as well as shorefront residents

 

Sea of Sand: A History of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

The Great Sand Dunes sprawl along the eastern fringes of the vast San Luis Valley of south-central Colorado. Sea of Sands is the definitive history of the natural, cultural, and political forces that helped shape this incomparable landscape.

No Mow May 2022

Just days into May the flowers begin. Image – Oli Haines

Throughout May 2022 Plantlife have once again made their impassioned annual plea for garden owners across the UK to resist the urge to mow lawns and tidy up their gardens and to join in with #NoMowMay. It’s a simple enough premise to leave grassy areas alone for a month, and it has huge benefits for biodiversity at this time of year to do so, giving a wide variety of flowering plants a chance to bloom early in appeal to our rich network of vital pollinators.

As in 2021, we here at NHBS have participated this year by letting the grassy areas on our premises flower and the results were quickly quite astounding. Within days there was a carpet of daisies and dandelions, Germander Speedwell and Black and Spotted Medic, and, as the month progressed and we explored further, the picture grew more and more complex. Tangles of Common Vetch, Creeping Buttercup and Common Mouse-ear proliferated, and tall fronds of Beaked Hawk’s Beard, Ribwort Plantain and Prickly Sow-thistle appeared. Hidden deep within a mixed mat of grasses the miniscule flowers of Cut-leaved Crane’s-bill, Thyme-leaved Speedwell and Scarlet Pimpernel flourished and, at the lawn edges, tall stands of Garlic Mustard and Cleavers towered over the last of the seasons Bluebell flowers.

It can still feel strangely radical to let an area of public space, or even a private garden, to grow wild. Perhaps it can feel like going against the flow to sit back and not mow or trim the grass, and to embrace a modicum of wild chaos. Much of our wildlife relies on the flowering plants that we suppress with our tidiness and our control of lawns. Multitudes of beetles, bees, ants, moths and butterflies have evolved alongside plants that, given half a chance, can still thrive in our green spaces. No Mow May offers us a glimpse into this rich relationship, this conversation in time, and it provides a lifeline. One flower that showed up in our lawn here, by way of an example, is the Cuckoo flower or Lady’s Smock, a light and elegant pink flower of grasslands that is almost exclusively selected by the Orange-tip (and Green-veined White) butterfly in spring to lay their eggs on, as it feeds the caterpillars when they hatch. Growing up to 50cm in height its reach is well within the mowing range.

In addition to the No Mow May initiative, Plantlife have also introduced Every Flower Counts, a citizen science survey that asks participants to count, record and report back the flowers found in a single metre squared patch of lawn . This will enable them to gather important data on the impact that leaving areas to grow can have on abundance and biodiversity.

As May winds to a close, species are still beginning to emerge in our lawn ready to flower in June: Spear Thistle, Oxeye Daisy, members of the Carrot family and, with a final flourish of the month, a Bee Orchid slowly opens its blooms right by the footway, surprisingly cryptic until you meet it at ground level.

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera). Image – Oli Haines

We hope that we can leave our grass uncut for a little longer so we can see who’s still there to flower, and that those of you who have participated in No Mow May may feel inspired to do the same.

Below is a list (in no particular order) of the flowering plants we discovered on our premises during No Mow May this year and a small selection of guides for wildflowers and grasses, plus some suggested reads for those who have inspired to take wild gardening further.

  1. White Clover – Trifolium repens
  2. Red Clover – Trifolium pratense
  3. Common Vetch – Vicia Sativa
  4. Germander Speedwell – Veronica chamaedrys
  5. Common Speedwell – Veronica persica
  6. Thyme-leaved Speedwell – Veronica serpyllifolia
  7. Common Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale
  8. Common Daisy – Bellis Perennis
  9. Meadow Buttercup – Ranunculus acris
  10. Creeping Buttercup – Ranunculus repens
  11. Cuckoo Flower – Cardamine pratensis
  12. Yarrow – Achillea millefolium
  13. Spotted Medick – Medicago Arabica
  14. Black Medick – Medicago lupulina
  15. Bluebell – Hyacinthoides non-scripta
  16. Cut-leaved Crane’s-bill – Geranium dissectum
  17. Common Mouse-ear – Cerastium fontanum
  18. Ribwort Plantain ­– Plantago lanceolata
  19. Bee Orchid – Ophrys apifera
  20. Herb Robert – Geranium robertianum
  21. Oxeye daisy – Leucanthemum vulgare
  22. Beaked Hawk’s-beard – Crepis vesicaria
  23. Catsear – Hypochaeris radicata
  24. Broad-leaved Dock – Rumex obtusifolius
  25. Sheep’s Sorrel – Rumex acetosella
  26. Southern Marsh/spotted Orchid Hybrid
  27. Creeping Cinquefoil – Potentilla reptans
  28. Primrose – Primula vulgaris
  29. Common Ragwort – Senecio jacobaea
  30. Hemlock – Conium maculatum
  31. Hemlock Water Dropwort – Oenanthe crocata
  32. Cuckoo-pint – Arum alpinum
  33. Scarlet Pimpernel – Anagallis arvensis
  34. Nipplewort – Lapsana communis
  35. Bristly Oxtongue – Helminthotheca echioides
  36. Cleavers – Galium aparine
  37. Ivy-Leaved Toadflax – Cymbalaria muralis
  38. Wood Avens – Geum urbanum
  39. Garlic Mustard – Alliaria petiolata
  40. Red Valarian – Centranthus ruber
  41. Hoary Willowherb – Epilobium parviflorum
  42. Broad-leaved Willowherb – Epilobium montanum
  43. Fringed Willowherb – Epilobium ciliatum
  44. Procumbent Pearlwort – Sagina procumbens
  45. Groundsel – Senecio vulgaris
  46. Cornsalad – Valerianella locusta
  47. Spear Thistle – Cirsium vulgare
  48. Prickly Sow-thistle – Sonchus asper
  49. Common Nettle – Urtica dioica
  50. Lesser Trefoil – Trifolium dubium

 Suggested books and equipment

Wild Flower Flowcharts Species: ID the Easy Way
Spiralbound | March 2022
£6.99

 

 

A Field Guide to Grasses, Sedges and Rushes
Spiralbound | April 2016
£11.99

 

 

 

 

The Wild Flower Key: How to identify wild flowers, trees and shrubs in Britain and Ireland
Paperback | March 2006
£24.99

 

 

 

Harrap’s Wild Flowers: A Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain & Ireland
Paperback | November 2018
£19.99

 

 

 

Collins Wild Flower Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland
Paperback | June 2016
£24.99

 

 

 

Making a Wildflower Meadow: The Definitive Guide to Grassland Gardening
Paperback | February 2015
£16.99

 

 

 

Wildlife Gardening: For Everyone and Everything
Paperback | April 2019
£14.99

 

 

 

Q1 Quadrat
£14.99

 

 

 

 

Q2 Quadrat
£15.50

 

 

 

 

Opticron Hand Lens 23mm 10x Magnification
£12.95 £14.95

 

 

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

The NHBS Introduction to Habitats: Grassland

Peter O’Connor aka anemoneprojectors via Flickr

Grassland habitats are areas of vegetation dominated by grasses. Similarly to heathland, grassland can be divided into lowland and upland (above 200m). The type of sediment can also be used to classify grassland habitats, such as calcareous (lime-rich soils), acidic (sands, gravels and siliceous rocks) and neutral (clay and loam soils). They are often maintained by human intervention, through mowing, fertilising, drainage, burning or chemical treatments, as well as livestock grazing. They can also be maintained by natural processes such as grazing or browsing, or due to exposed conditions at the coast or at high altitudes where shrub and tree growth is limited.

Grassland can also be separated into unimproved, semi-improved and improved. This refers to the amount of agricultural interference in the habitat. Improved grasslands have undergone high modification or intensive agriculture, and thus typically have fewer species with a limited variety of grasses and flowering plants. (white clover, perennial ryegrass and other agricultural species usually cover more than 50% of improved grasslands). These habitats are covered more in-depth in another blog: The NHBS Introduction to Habitats: Farmland.

Semi-improved grassland is a transition category between improved and unimproved grasslands that have undergone some modification through the use of, for example, fertilisers, herbicides and grazing. These habitats have a reduced range of plant species compared to unimproved grassland but a wider diversity than improved grassland.

Unimproved grassland, also termed species-rich, has not been artificially fertilised, ploughed or reseeded. Grassland habitats are considered to be species-rich if they have more than fifteen plant species per square metre, a wildflower and sedge cover of more than 30% (excluding creeping buttercup, white clover and invasive weed species), and less than 10% cover of white clover and perennial ryegrass. Species-rich grassland habitats not only support a large number of flora species but also many fauna species such as invertebrates and birds. They improve and maintain the health of soils, protect against soil erosion, sequester carbon and provide food for browsing and grazing species such as deer and livestock.

Other examples of grassland habitats include lowland meadows, upland hay meadows, montane grasslands, purple moor-grass and rush pasture, marshy grassland, wet grassland and calaminarian grassland.

What species can you find here?
Flora

The number and type of flora species found in grasslands depends on the type and health of the habitat. Unimproved, species-rich habitats can support a huge variety of grasses, wildflowers and other vegetation. They all provide food and shelter for the many different fauna species that can be found in grasslands.

Crested dog’s-tail (Cynosurus cristatus)

Peter O’Connor via Flickr

Grassland is dominated by grass cover and the species of grasses present can depend on factors such as soil type, altitude, level of agricultural improvement and maintenance routine. Crested dog’s-tail is found in many grassland habitats. It is a wiry, tufted grass that grows between 15–60 cm tall and is a traditional grazing grass. It is a common species that prefers lowland grassland and is the foodplant of many caterpillar species, such as the large skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus).

Quaking-grass (Briza media)

David Evans via Flickr

Another grass species is quaking-grass, with purple and green heart-shaped flower heads on delicate stems that appear to ‘quake’ or quiver in the breeze. Resembling miniature hops, this plant is also called totter grass, dithery dock, jiggle-joggles, earthquakes and toddling grass. The seeds of this species are a source of food for many bird species, such as yellowhammers and house sparrows.

Grasses are important foraging plants and their leaves and grain are eaten by a wide variety of species, such as small mammals, livestock, deer and many invertebrates. They also provide shelter and nesting materials, often used as the base or weaving material for many bird nests. Grasses can also help to stabilise the soil.

Cowslip (Primula veris)

Matt Brown via Flickr

There are thousands of wildflower species in grassland habitats, providing an important nectar and pollen source for many invertebrate species. Cowslip favours dry, calcareous grassland, but is also found in woodland, hedgerows and road verges. It flowers from April to May and its yellow, bell-shaped flowers are encased in a long, green tube-shaped calyx and grow in clusters. The flowers all face one side of the plant and have five petals, each with a small indent on the top edge. Cowslip is particularly important as it is an early food source for many pollinators.

Eyebright (Euphrasia sp.)

johndal via Flickr

Another example of a wildflower species found in grassland habitats is eyebright. There are multiple eyebright species, including many hybrids, and identification in the field is often difficult. They’re semi-parasitic, feeding on the nutrients of the roots of nearby grasses. This can help control the spread of more aggressive grass species, allowing other wildflowers to grow.

For more examples of wildflowers, check out our guide to UK wild flower identification.

Fungi

Fungi form an important part of grassland habitats, playing a vital role by breaking down organic matter in the soil and facilitating the cycling of nutrients. They also food for many different species, including insects, mammals, gastropods like slugs and snails, nematodes, bacteria and even other fungi.

Scarlet waxcap (Hygrocybe coccinea)

Stu’s Images via Flickr

Waxcaps are associated with unimproved grasslands that have a short sward and are nutrient-poor, moss-rich and long-established, and occur in both upland and lowland areas. Due to changes in agricultural practices, these habitats have been declining in Europe, and conservation efforts have been made to protect them. These waxcap grasslands are also home to other fungi species including agarics, clavarioid fungi and earthtongues.

Sometimes called the scarlet hood or righteous red waxy cap, the scarlet waxcap can be found across the Northern Hemisphere. They’re found in fields, open woodland, lawns and roadside but they prefer unimproved grassland, where no fertiliser, chemical treatment or ploughing has occurred.

White Spindles/Fairy Fingers (Clavaria fragilis)

Dr. Hans-Günter Wagner via Flickr

This species is an upright fungus consisting of tubular, unbranched basidiocarps (the fruiting body). They are white with browning at the tips and are very fragile, with smooth, soft and somewhat brittle flesh. They also occur in waxcap grassland and other old, unimproved grasslands.

Shaggy Inkcap (Coprinus comatus)

Mature: Lukas Large via Flickr (cropped). Immature: Simon via Flickr

This fungus, also known as lawyer’s wig, is very common in parklands, grasslands and lawns, with a tall, shaggy cap that begins white before turning browner and grey with age. The cap opens to a bell shape as the gills turn from white to pink and then black, dissolving from the base of the cap until it’s almost completely gone. This dissolving fruitbody breaks down into a black fluid that is full of fungal spores, aiding dispersal. This fluid was historically used as an ink substitute.

Fauna

Diverse grasslands can provide habitats for a wide variety of wildlife. There is a lot of cross over between grassland and farmland species, due to much agricultural land being improved grassland habitats. Grassland is home to several species of birds, such as ground-nesting species and birds of prey. They also support small mammals, reptiles and many grazing and browsing species, such as deer, rabbits and wild horses. They are also important habitats for a huge number of invertebrates, with wildflower-rich habitats supporting many pollinator species.

Common field grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus)

Tim Worfolk via Flickr

This common and widespread species feeds on grasses and other plants. They prefer dry habitats and are found in grassland, heathland and agricultural areas, but tend to occur in higher densities in ungrazed areas. Many invertebrate species play important roles in grassland habitats, allowing air penetration and nutrient cycling in the soils and the breakdown of dead organic material. They are also prey for species such as birds, reptiles and some small mammals.

Marbled white (Melanargia galathea)

Topside: xulescu_g via Flickr
Underside: Peter Stenzel via Flickr

Butterflies are another group of invertebrates that are common in grassland habitats, particularly species-rich grasslands, due to the presence of many food plants and shelter provided by scattered scrub. Although some species can be found in multiple different grassland types, the habitat can sometimes be characterised by the presence of different butterfly and moth assemblages.

The marbled white is found in unimproved grassland with tall sward, as well as gardens, road verges and railway embankments, and is widespread in southern Britain. Its range has been expanding northwards and eastwards. Its caterpillars rely on red fescue (Festuca rubra) as a foodplant, as well as sheep’s fescue (F. ovina), Yorkshire-fog (Holcus lanatus) and tor-grass (Brachypodium pinnatum).

Bloody-nosed Beetle (Timarcha tenebricosa)

Stoutcob via Flickr

Beetles often make up a large percentage of invertebrate assemblages in grassland habitats. They play many important roles in grassland ecosystems, as plant feeders, prey, predators, parasites and scavengers, recycling nutrients from organic matter both into the soil and through the food chain. Bloody nosed beetles are black, flightless beetles that are often found in grasslands and coastal areas, particularly in the south and central UK. Their common name comes from their peculiar defence mechanism. They secrete foul-tasting, bright red hemolymph (a fluid analogous to blood) from their mouth when threatened.

Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

caroline legg via Flickr

Many birds nest in grassland habitats, such as vulnerable wading birds (lapwing and curlew) and the skylark. A small bird, the skylark has a streaky brown plumage with a small crest. It is listed on the Birds of Conservation Concern 4 (BoCC 4) red list due to its recent population declines. These declines have been associated with agricultural intensification and the resultant reduction of grassland availability and suitability of farmland habitats for breeding and foraging. Birds such as the skylark use grassland as foraging grounds, feeding on seeds and insects. They are prey for other species such as birds of prey and foxes.

Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Ron Knight via Flickr

Several predator species utilise grassland habitats, namely foxes, weasels, stoats and some birds of prey. A number of birds of prey use grasslands to hunt for small mammals and other prey species. Kestrels predate almost exclusively on small mammals, such as voles, shrews and mice. They also occasionally prey on birds, particularly fledglings during the early weeks of summer, as well as bats, lizards and some invertebrates.

Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus)

Bengt Nyman via Flickr

The UK has six deer species, although only two are native: red and roe deer. Fallow deer are thought to have been introduced by the Normans and the three other species, Reeves’ muntjac, Chinese water deer and sika, were introduced in the 19th and early 20th centuries. For more information on these species, check out our guide to UK deer identification.

Roe deer are small deer, with a reddish-brown colour during summer and a paler or black colouration in winter. They have a large white rump that becomes less obvious during the winter. Many grassland habitats are maintained by grazing and browsing, where species such as deer feed on the shoots of trees and scrub species that would otherwise encroach on the habitat. In many countries, deer populations are controlled by predators such as wolves, to help reduce the extent of their impact on grasslands. Other habitats are then able to develop, allowing the expansion of woodland, shrubland and heathland. The UK does not have any large predators anymore, however, therefore deer populations are managed through culling to prevent overgrazing.

For more information on other species that may occur in grassland habitats, including reptiles, moths, bumblebees and other mammal and bird species that may occur in grassland habitats, check out some of our other guides to UK species identification.

Threats

Species-rich grasslands are highly threatened habitats, as most grassland in the UK is improved or semi-improved. The main threats to grassland habitats are agricultural improvement and development. Ploughing, re-sowing, intensive grazing or mowing and heavy use of fertilisers can fundamentally change soil type and quality. This, along with clearing for development, reduces the quality and area of habitat, which would impact the number and range of flora and fauna they can support. Heavy recreational use can also impact grasslands, particularly fragile vegetation.

Another threat is encroachment from scrub and trees because of abandonment, incorrect or lax maintenance or intentional efforts to increase woodland cover. Woodland is often prioritised over grassland (that is not used for agriculture), as it is seen as more environmentally important, particularly in relation to carbon sequestration. The consequent fragmentation of grasslands is a threat in itself, as habitat patches that are too small or isolated may no longer be able to support viable populations of some species.

Areas of significance

Grassland can be found across the UK but there are some areas of significance such as the Culm grasslands and Rhôs pastures (purple moor grass and rush pastures), East Anglian Breckland and areas of the new forest (lowland dry acid grassland) and the Keen of Hamar in Shetland (calaminarian grassland).

Further reading and useful equipment

Guide to Grassland Plants 1

£3.75

Check out other Field Studies Council Fold-out Guides

 

 

Grassland Fungi: A Field Guide

£19.99 

 

 

 

Grassland Restoration and Management

£34.99

 

 

 

 

Opticron Hand Lens: 23mm 15x Magnification

£14.50 £16.50

Check out our guide to hand lenses and our full range.

 

Advanced Bug Hunting Kit

£59.99 £65.60

 

 

 

Q2 Quadrat

£15.50 

 

 

 

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.