Bravo for no-mow: Cutting back on cutting the grass to help the environment

Last modified: Monday, August 19, 2013

Going green doesn’t have to be a challenge or something that requires a lot of money and effort. As Hampshire College proves with its new meadowland project, sometimes it’s easy being green.

Hampshire College now has two parcels of meadowlands on its Amherst campus: large fields of freely growing flowers and grasses that create a colorful web of vegetation conducive to supporting native plants and animals. And after some research, the college made this wildlife haven, mostly, by not mowing the area anymore.

After about eight years of carefully cutting the grass, in the fall the college stopped mowing two parcels — one a 6-acre patch and the other a 9-acre expanse — along Route 116.

The meadowlands will serve as breeding grounds for many species of birds, like the vester sparrow, which is listed as threatened in Massachusetts. Native plants, some of which are also on the state threatened or endangered lists, are expected to thrive in the new habitat as well.

At Hampshire College, not cutting the grass is expected to reduce carbon dioxide levels by up to 12,000 pounds per year, cut back on mowing time by 448 hours per year and save the college about $2,300 per year in diesel fuel costs, according to a statement from the college. And the carbon reduction aspect of the meadowlands is in line with Hampshire’s broader sustainability goal to be a carbon-neutral campus by 2030.

In addition, the meadowlands will also act as a laboratory for students to learn about that type of ecosystem and help encourage students interested in the environment to come to Hampshire.

A former student has already used the meadowlands in this way. Emily Waters, a former ecology major who graduated from Hampshire in May, completed an independent study on carbon sequestration in the soil under the meadowlands and compared her findings to soil under a manicured lawn. Because the meadowlands aren’t managed as heavily, they develop a higher level of biodiversity and recycle nutrients from dead plants and twigs back into the soil, allowing for the soil to hold onto more carbon than any lawn could, she said.

Not mowing the lawn to help the environment. It doesn’t get much easier than that — and people across the nation and the world are beginning to pick up on this. Recent stories in The New York Times, The Guardian and The Washington Post describe the application of the no-mow philosophy to people’s own yards with home owners turning a section of a garden or an entire front lawn into a wildflower preserve.

Of course, there’s a little more to creating a contained meadow than turning off the mower. Usually, some light, strategic mowing is necessary to keep the tall grass from spreading too far and to cut down on ticks. There are plenty of websites available to provide advice on how to start a meadow like this. The National Audubon Society has a brief, helpful guide

We like the idea of taking a break while giving the environment a break and applaud the outside-of-the-box thinking that led Hampshire College to commit to this project.


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