Halton Council is having to cut the grass in the borough less often than before due to the continuing effect of budget cuts.
Over the last few months you may have noticed there has been less grass cutting taking place on areas of land such as grass verges.
The Council had to find savings of £16 million for 2016-17 due to reductions in funding from the Government. This means the Council is forced to make tough decisions in order to make savings while also trying to protect services.
There are more than 1,000 hectares of public open space in the borough that the Council is responsible for, including public parks, amenity green spaces, local nature reserves, woodlands, promenades, roadside verges and other small pieces of green space.
It is also responsible for 40 children's play areas and 37 multi-sports areas (including five skate parks and five climbing boulders). The Council has invested significant sums into its green spaces over the years and has a number of public parks that are amongst the best that can be found in the country.
Like all areas of the Council, the Open Space Service had to identify ways of reducing spending. It had to make £200,000 worth of savings which included reducing grass cutting on general amenity land and roadside verges.
Previously, this grass was cut once every two weeks (17 times a year) to an average height of 45mm. It is now scheduled to take place every three weeks (a total of 11 times a year) to an average height of approximately 100mm.
The grass now has to be cut to a longer length because of the reduced frequency between cuts. If we cut it shorter the performance of the machines is compromised and they would struggle to cut the quantity of grass required. There would also be very large amounts of grass cuttings generated.
Some areas of grass have been designated as meadows which will be cut twice a year. Other items such as floral bedding on roundabouts were also removed
The standard of maintenance within the borough's public parks has remained the same as it previously was.
Before the change in mowing was implemented, trials were carried out last year by the Open Space Service in several locations across the borough, to ascertain the effects of mowing the grass less frequently.
The trials started in June and ended in October and involved several different pieces of ride-on mowing equipment. A number of factors were monitored such as public perception (calls received in relation to the change in mowing), litter accumulations, dog fouling, increased amounts of grass cuttings, incidents of grass fires, efficiency of equipment to cope with alterations and fuel consumption.
There are also environmental advantages to cutting the grass less frequently, including benefits for wildlife:
- Longer grass is able to support a larger variety of wildflowers by helping them to flourish. This benefits insects including bees and butterflies, which have reduced in numbers nationally.
- Birds and small mammals forage for insects and seeds in grassland and use it as shelter and cover.
- Already in Halton we are noticing quite rare species such as Bee Orchids in numerous areas.
- Increasing biodiversity adds value to our greenspace, enhancing the experience for visitors, leading to an appreciation of the surroundings and may nurture a sense of ownership.
- The areas of grass set aside to receive two cuts per year could potentially create an even more diverse and valuable habitat. DEFRA's National Pollinator Strategy is aimed at easing the pressure on our pollinating insects by making simple changes to the way that we manage the landscape in order to benefit them. The value of pollinating insects in relation to food production is well known and this strategy aims to provide the best possible conditions over the next ten years for bees and other pollinators to flourish. By implementing this 'alternative' mowing regime, Halton Borough Council is contributing to this Government strategy.