Aberdeenshire wildflowers could see positive benefits from lockdown

As services adjust to the challenges posed by Coronavirus (Covid-19), Council staff leading the Greenspace and Biodiversity project are looking at the positive benefits on nature and biodiversity in Aberdeenshire:

The current circumstances created by COVID-19 have dramatically changed many aspects of our lives and many activities have come to a halt during the current lockdown period.  There are numerous examples across the country where existing maintenance regimes and new projects in our parks and open spaces have been stopped, postponed, or changed direction.

Since summer 2019 Aberdeenshire Council has been undertaking a Greenspace & Biodiversity Project aiming to improve biodiversity, habitats for pollinator species, and challenge conventional regimes of open space management.  Much of this involved participation from community groups and organisations, both in planning and implementation stages and there were many activities diarised to occur this spring and summer.  All these have now been postponed until government restrictions are lifted and our work can recommence.

However there is an interesting opportunity here - over the last three weeks, during the current lockdown, nature has been given an opportunity to develop without interference as almost all maintenance in parks and open spaces has stopped.  While the medium term situation is not certain, it is unlikely that we will return to grass cutting for a number of weeks.

Already, areas of longer grass have started to form better wildlife habitats which will benefit wild plants, butterflies, bees, birds and other species.
There are, and will continue to be, air quality improvements due to reduced carbon emissions and other pollutants from work vehicles and mowing equipment.

The Greenspace & Biodiversity Project had already earmarked areas for trialling different maintenance styles, but the current situation means that much larger sections of Aberdeenshire will be left to develop naturally in the short term.  We’ll take a view on how to manage these as things develop, and it may be that we allow some of these to become longer lasting features, albeit with some maintenance activity to assist healthy habitat development and removal of noxious weeds.

Alternative longer term options may include altering routine grass cutting frequencies and allowing grass to grow at different heights, wildflower meadow creation and native tree planting where locations are suitable.  Consideration could also being given to how we manage roadside verges.

Our parks and open spaces remain open during the current lockdown but please be mindful of government advice on travel, social distancing and ‘one period of exercise per day’.  However during this period we would ask everyone to consider the benefits of managing our parks and open spaces differently in future and think about more ways in which we can improve biodiversity. 
Even simple changes such as reducing grass cutting frequencies and increasing cutting heights can allow wildflowers such as buttercups, yarrow, and many others to establish, attracting bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

A list of sites that could be included in a five-year trial has been drawn up by the Council’s Greenspace Projects Officers, Landscape Services Team and Environment Planners to enable a greater understanding of the most effective management methods.  Proposed sites range from small plots near residential roads to some of the largest public parks within the Shire, including country parks, recreation grounds, burial grounds and other numerous green spaces.  The list of sites may be added to in light of COVID-19, the impact that is now having, and the lessons we can learn from the current lockdown.

Further information on the council’s Greenspace & Biodiversity Project can be found on our website at https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/environment/greenspace/