The Ampthill Buzz

We’re re-establishing wild meadow-style zones, and biodiversity.

Since the 1930s, the UK has lost over 97% of its wildflower meadows. This has caused a steep decline in the populations of insects, with substantial knock-on effects to birds and other species that feed on them. Aside from the impact this has had on the ecosystem, insects are vital to our own food supply e.g. tomatoes, beans, apples, plums are just a few plants that rely on pollinators, and so it is becoming increasingly critical to reverse their waning numbers.

Road verges and similar patches of grass offer huge potential to reverse these trends and to support biodiversity. To do this, we must stop mowing them so frequently and instead allow the grass to grow long and to encourage wildflowers to flourish. This will make the town buzz with bees, butterflies and other precious pollinators, as well as providing habitat and food for a variety of small mammals and birds.

We are doing this in two ways:

  • For a number of verges and areas of grass throughout the town, instead of being mown close to the ground several times a year, they will be mown just once and the cuttings removed to reduce competition from grasses. Where necessary, wildflowers will also be introduced to increase the number and diversity of plants.
  • The mowing regime across all other verges in the town has been changed from 15 cuts a year to 6 cuts a year. This brings us in line with many of the other towns and villages in Central Bedfordshire and will allow the low growing wildflowers a longer flowering period whilst retaining a neat appearance
Oxeye daisy

Click here to view the Wildflower Gallery

Once established, wildflower areas are self-sustaining, as each year’s flowers provide seeds for the following years. Flowers will appear in waves of colour throughout spring and summer, growing in variety and number over several years, and we hope it will bring pleasure to Ampthill residents as well as be great for our local wildlife.

Where are the zones we're managing?

We designated several areas around the town as wildlife needs connected spaces that are not too far apart. Gardens, with areas left wild or planted with ornamental plants for pollinators can also help to create these networks.

  • A zone within the Zig Zags recreation area
  • A zone on Queen's Road close to the junction with Oliver Street
  • A zone on the Tavistock Road recreation area
  • Two zones on Cherrytree Way.
  • The two verges at the junction of Holland Road and Flitwick Road
  • The verge on the junction of Brinsmade Road and Lea Road
  • A verge along Katherine's gardens
  • The bank on Church Avenue at the junction with Church Street (town side only)
  • Ailesbury Rd adjacent to the wildlife pond
  • Chiltern Close - the four corners of the central grassy area
  • A triangular space by the Alameda Gates on Woburn Road
  • Around the edge of the grassy area on Verne Drive
  • Two corner verges on Cedar Close

Some of the sites already had lots of wildflowers in the sward but others had less and so we planted additional wildflowers as small plants in 2021 and 2022. Unfortunately due to the hot and dry summer of 2022 some of the plants failed.

We have also added some Yellow Rattle seed to some of the existing sites. This is a wildflower that reduces the vigour of the grasses and therefore helps wildflowers to flourish. All the sites except Church Avenue have had at least one sowing and we aim to do more.

How will they be managed and monitored?

These areas will be cut only once a year, around the beginning of September, and the cuttings collected to reduce fertility which will help the wildflowers to flourish.

We aim to keep the areas around public footpaths neater by mowing the edges. This does depend on volunteers, so if you would like to help please let us know.

Whilst the aim is to reduce the incidence of the grasses, the grass itself is still beneficial to wildlife. Think of it as a mini-jungle. It is moist at the base so good habitat for all sorts of insects to shelter and lay eggs. The grass itself also provides pollen and seeds which provide food. Long grass can support things like moths, butterflies (e.g. meadow browns) and grasshoppers, which in turn can be food for birds, bats and hedgehogs

We have a team of volunteers, each allocated to a site within the town that, each month during the summer, check the sites for problems, take photographs, and record what they see in terms of different wildflowers and insects, as well as taking a count of open flowers and insects in a 1 metre square sample of the ground. We will use this data to track the progress of the sites over the seasons and over the years.

What can you expect to see?

Differences in the sites.....As we have different soil types within Ampthill, some with very light soil and some heavier, and also with different grass mixtures sown (grass is not just one type of plant, there are usually two or more varieties mixed together to make turf.) So we would expect and are, seeing the areas develop in different ways. Those on lighter soils have much weaker grass and the wildflowers can flourish. On the heavier soils, we see taller, more vigorous grasses. On these latter sites it will take longer to reduce the fertility and for the balance to change from mostly grasses to mostly wildflowers.

Not the very bright cornfield annuals.... The flowers will be mostly perennial types which are usually yellow, whites, pinks and purples. There is a misconception that a wildflower area is full of bright red poppies and blue cornflowers, however these are mostly cornfield annuals which only last one year and there needs to be bare earth to start with to achieve germination of the seeds, and then would need re-sowing each year as they will not seed enough to fill an area. This is not a sustainable approach for these verges and you can end up with more aggressive weeds than starting from a grassy verge and converting it. In contrast the perennials will bulk up and spread and so increase over time rather than decrease.

Change year by year.... It will take some time for the fertility to be reduced with repeated annual cut-and-collect. The Yellow Rattle also will take time to work on the grasses as it needs several years to set seed and spread itself around.

A full list of sites, including a map can be found here.

Other sites

We have also liaised with Meadfleet who manage the green spaces at Ampthill Heights and who are keen to encourage wildlife in the areas they manage. They will be leaving a couple of areas unmown until later in the summer to encourage wildflowers to develop including the flood pool and bank alongside it, and the area adjacent to the hedging behind the children’s mushroom seats.

Our volunteers have been monitoring the sites, and will continue to do so so that we can keep a record of what flowers are appearing, and how this is changing over time. If you would like to help, please let us know. Training will be provided.

Be a Bee-Friendly Gardener Campaign

In May we launched the ‘Be a Bee-Friendly gardener campaign’ to schools, providing information on how to attract bees and other pollinators to your garden.  We would love to see how our youngsters are helping wildlife their own gardens and will publish writing, photographs or pictures on our website.

You can find information about our campaign here:

Be a Bee-Friendly Gardener Campaign Ideas sheet

Be a Bee-Friendly Gardener Resource List

We would like to thank all of the volunteers who have helped so far, the Environmental Services team at Central Bedfordshire Council for their help in amending the mowing schedules, the Greensand Landscape Partnership for their support and funding, and the Greensand Trust for their expertise and advice.

Please sign up to our mailing list if you would like to be kept up to date on the creation of wildflower havens or any other Ampthill Climate Change Group activity.

Flood pool bank May 2021

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