Encouraged by the response to reduced grass cutting during the first year of covid lockdowns in 2020, Dundee City Council now have 27 sites across the city that they manage in new ways, as either biodiversity-rich meadows or less-intensively managed grasslands.

Naturalising amenity grassland

The traditional view of a well-kept park is one with manicured lawns – often called amenity grassland – cut regularly through the summer months to keep it suitable for picnics, games and sports. In other words, for people.  This regular cutting, like many things, didn't take place during 2020 allowing the grass to grow naturally long. Both residents and staff appreciated what longer grass looked like in a public greenspace, and enjoyed the wildlife attracted to it.

Dundee City Council’s Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP) includes a commitment to review grassland management. As cut amenity grassland has the lowest value for biodiversity it was decided to manage the City’s greenspaces more constructively for wildlife (and for people’s enjoyment too).

Work with what is already there

Dundee’s approach is to find a balance between managing grassland for people and for biodiversity. The Council did a review of the greenspace it manages. They selected sites for the new naturalising management approach that were not in conflict with recreation, sport or access. These are mostly under tree canopies, on wet or sloping ground.

The sites were surveyed to establish the range of species present. Those with some native floral diversity were designated to be managed as ‘biodiversity grassland’, and those with mainly grass species as ‘naturalised grassland’. This approach works with what is there from the start.

Biodiversity grassland and naturalised grassland

Biodiversity-rich native wildflower meadows and naturalised grasslands now exist across 27 of the Council’s parks and greenspaces. 57 hectares (ha) are managed in this new way – 8 ha of biodiversity grassland and 49 ha of naturalised grassland.

The biodiversity grassland is managed to mimic a hay meadow – cut once or twice a year with arisings removed and taken to the Council’s composting facility, producing Discovery Compost along with the city’s household food and garden waste. Control of unwanted or over-dominant perennial weeds takes place by minimal use of herbicides and by sowing yellow rattle seeds in the autumn. Yellow rattle is an annual that thrives in grasslands, partly feeding off the nutrients in the roots of grasses. By feeding off the vigorous grasses, it allows more delicate, native species to find their way through the weakened grasses.  

The naturalised grassland is cut once a year, with cut grass left in place. Naturalised grassland requires monitoring and managing to ensure that species richness and biodiversity is maintained and improved.

Read technical info 

Communication is key

A city-wide public consultation was commissioned in 2020 to canvas local opinion on increasing biodiversity in the city's parks. There were general questions as well as site specific ones with maps of the proposed changes to the 27 parks and greenspaces.

Three-quarters of respondents were in favour of proposals to dedicate areas of amenity grassland to biodiversity.

Reconciling differing opinions to biodiversity projects in an urban setting has been a major consideration for the project. The public consultation, along with other feedback, demonstrated that the issue of how parks are maintained is a highly emotive one. Some feel that the management of parks reflects on the standing of the whole city:

“I think large areas intended for grassland allocated in parks such as Dawson Park are an eyesore. Parks like this are meant for recreational use, sports, children's play areas and dog exercise areas.”

Others are inspired by the change:

“I have been enjoying the long grass this summer as well as the fact that I live in an area where the council is waking up to this and implementing these methods which will only encourage biodiversity” 

All are very attached to their local greenspace: 

“I think the areas of biodiversity are a great idea in general but best in areas that people don’t use for other activities or next to roads/houses”   

Involving local communities at the earliest possible stage, bringing them together to discuss hopes, fears, expectations and engaging them in ongoing dialogue after the initial conversion of the grassland is crucial. It also takes time. Ongoing engagement work with communities has been possible because of the creation of a temporary two-year Community Environment Officer post supported by additional additional Scottish Government funds that were available to local authorities. The Community Engagement Officer is also available to support individual communities in undertaking on-going planting and monitoring activities.

Signage was used at all sites to explain the intention to change management. During 2022, new signs are being installed at the sites, providing a QR code linking to further information. All eight biodiversity sites have ‘Feeding the Bees’ signs. The naturalised grassland areas are getting ‘Wild Grass’ signs - these are being prioritised in highly visible areas and sites that have received lots of enquiries.

What else is blooming and buzzing in Dundee?

Additional funding has been used to work with communities to plant bulbs and sow additional wildflower seed in other parks across the city. Perennial wildflower meadows have been created at Riverside Nature Park, Trottick Mill Ponds and Dundee Law. The Eden Project is currently working with the Council and local communities to create eight hectares of wildflower meadows in the city including at Camperdown Park and along a wide verge along one of Dundee’s arterial routes. Their first bloom is this summer as a taster to the opening of Eden Project Dundee in 2024. 

For information on other urban naturalised parks and greenspace projects look at the Lyne Burn river restoration project in Dunfermline, Native wildflower meadows connecting Edinburgh’s coastline and NatureScot's Wilding our Parks Case Studies.

Thanks to Alison Abercrombie, Greenspace Officer, Dundee City Council for providing information and assistance, and to NatureScot for funding to create this as part of a series of naturalised management case studies.