Derbyshire Dales council answers critics over decision to mow wildflower meadow - after Chris Packham took the authority to task

Derbyshire Dales District Council has moved to set the record straight after a national broadcaster criticised its decision to mow parts of a temporary wildflower meadow in Matlock.

By Ed Dingwall
Thursday, 9th June 2022, 2:08 pm

Television presenter and conservationist Chris Packham took the authority to task in front of an audience of half a million Twitter followers, when before and after photos of the land next to the Arc Leisure Centre were shared by Peak District environmental magazine Little Green Space.

The hill had been allowed to grow wild as part of the national No Mow May campaign to address biodiversity loss – and Packham slammed the decision to mow it as the month-long initiative ended.

He said: “This is maddening. When will we learn? Who is responsible and why has this happened? There is a biodiversity crisis and we are all getting sick of excuses for this sort of vandalism.”

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Before it was mowed, the land had sprung to life with a carpet of buttercups, red clover and other pollinator-friendly plants.

According to Little Green Space, the day before the land was mowed, at least eight wildflower species, bumblebees and swifts had been observed in the area, and many on Twitter also expressed their horror at what had been lost.

But the council insists the decision to raze the land must be seen in the context of wider biodiversity policies leaving verges and public spaces to nature across the district all summer.

A spokesperson said: “When national activist groups with a huge social media following decide to knock you down you really are on a hiding to nothing, but we believe that local people will understand what we have been trying to do with this piece of land .

“The only reason wildflowers bloomed there this spring is because we took the decision to delay mowing the area to participate in #NoMowMay, which allowed pollinators to thrive on the site. It is not usually a wildflower meadow. As was always the plan we mowed part of the area at the start of June, but left other parts uncut to provide continuity for the pollinators.”

They added: “We know that local people have been using this space as a picnic area, particularly during the pandemic, which was why we cut the central space – but we have committed to monitor its usage this summer to guide us on the possibility of extending #NoMowMay next year. We will consult the local community on this.

“Over the past two years Derbyshire Dales District Council has embarked on an innovative biodiversity programme that has attracted national acclaim. It is therefore disappointing that activists should seek to drag down this council's reputation. But we remain passionate about biodiversity.”

The council’s biodiversity programme incorporated 15 pilot sites in 2021, with specialist officers working alongside parish councils and community groups to prepare the land and plant seeds during the winter.

That resulted in more than 55 different flowering plants, ranging from common dandelions and buttercups to four species of orchid, and was hailed as a great success story by many observers.

Following recommendations from councillors, officers and local residents the number of protected sites has increased this year to 34 - and this number is expected to grow in 2023.