Wilding our Parks case study - Dundee report
Biodiversity and naturalised grasslands in Dundee
Sites: Myrekirk and Lochee Parks
Myrekirk Park 56.472186, -3.050756
Lochee Park 56.467527, -3.011551
Site type: Public parks and gardens
Secondary type: Amenity greenspace
Management responsibility: Dundee City Council
Naturalisation type: Grassland naturalisation, Native wildflower meadow
Project partners: Dundee City Council, Local Community Groups, Eden Project, University of Dundee Botanic Gardens
- Creating Biodiversity Grasslands and Naturalised Grasslands Consultation Results
- What is Biodiversity from Dundee City Council
- Dundee’s Biodiversity Action Plan 2020 - 2030
Grassland naturalisation, Native wildflower meadow, Public parks and gardens, Amenity greenspace, Green networks, Yellow rattle, LBAP, Biodiversity
Yellow rattle has been introduced at Myrekirk and Lochee Parks as part of a city-wide initiative to convert areas in Dundee’s parks and greenspaces into biodiversity-rich meadows and less-intensively managed grasslands.
The planting of yellow rattle at Myrekirk and Lochee Parks in 2021 was part of a city-wide initiative to increase the amount of publicly accessible grassland managed for biodiversity. Myrekirk and Lochee parks are busy parks mostly used for sport and recreation, and so it was important to complement rather than compete with these activities in the plans for creating biodiversity-rich native wildflower meadows and naturalised grasslands.
A city-wide public consultation was commissioned in 2020 to canvas local opinion on increasing biodiversity in the city's parks. Three-quarters of respondents were in favour of proposals to dedicate areas of amenity grassland to biodiversity. In response, over the last couple of years, areas of suitable grassland within 27 of Dundee’s parks and greenspaces have been managed less intensively as ‘naturalised’ grasslands or converted to biodiversity-rich meadows.
Drivers for naturalisation
A major driver for the initiative came during the first lockdown in spring 2020 when people reported to Dundee City Council they enjoyed seeing the longer grass and more wildlife in their parks and open spaces.
“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” Citizen feedback
Dundee City Council’s Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP) also included a commitment to review grassland management in. As cut amenity grassland has the lowest value for biodiversity it was decided to manage the City’s greenspaces more constructively for wildlife.
What has been delivered?
Sites in 27 city parks and greenspaces were identified. The selected sites are a mixture of publicly accessible grassland, industrial amenity, country park, traditional Victorian parkland, and informal recreation areas.
Due to the number and size of these areas it was decided that the sites exhibiting most floral diversity would be ‘biodiversity grasslands’. These would be managed to mimic a hay meadow; with cutting and lifting the arisings once or twice a year. The remaining sites (the ‘naturalised grasslands’) would be cut on an annual basis, with arisings left in situ.
At Myrekirk and Lochee Parks ‘summer meadows’ with yellow rattle have been created. These meadows are also expected to host an array of other annual and perennial flowers for which species richness and diversity will be surveyed. The seed used for the yellow rattle was harvested in 2021 and supplied by Naturescape. Site preparation for the yellow rattle meadows involved scarification to expose the bare soil; this enables optimum conditions for germination. In naturalised grassland areas, the council have minimised mechanical intervention by reducing mowing frequency to once or twice annually. They have also significantly reduced herbicide application to the minimal amount required for controlling unwanted perennial weeds.
How was it done and by whom?
Work began on planning the project in 2020. The Council delivery team included the Neighbourhood Services Greenspace team, Operations team and Communities team for consultation with local communities.
- An Operations team manager identified possible sites based on areas that could be appropriate – such as park edges, sloped areas and wetter areas.
- To establish the potential of proposed areas, initial site surveys of existing floral biodiversity were carried out and sites mapped using GIS.
- Geographic spread was also taken into account and the final selection was distributed across the eight City-wards.
- Dundee Botanic Gardens advised on what grassland management would be best and types of seeds.
- Naturescape supplied the native wildflower seed, yellow rattle seed and bulbs.
- A local blacksmith made robust interpretation signage for the sites.
- During 2020 grass cutting was late due to lockdown and when mowing resumed the identified areas were left uncut.
- During 2021, after feedback from the public consultation, the areas were adjusted and mown as scheduled at the end of the growing season.
- Areas to be sown with yellow rattle were prepared at the beginning of winter and sown by mid-December 2021.
All 27 selected parks have either naturalised grassland, biodiversity meadows or a mixture of both. Overall, there are eight parks with biodiversity areas. Lochee Park has both naturalised and biodiversity grassland areas. Myrekirk Park has only biodiversity grasslands.
Existing recreational and heritage uses were also considered when planning naturalisation of the areas. At Lochee Park, a slope is traditionally used by the public for sledging in winter and management as a biodiversity meadow will allow continued use for winter recreation. At Myrekirk Park, the naturalisation project was planned to complement an ongoing heritage project that highlights the archaeological importance of an area of standing stones.
Communication and engagement
Communication with councillors, local groups and members of the public was an important part of the ongoing management of the project.
To communicate to elected members:
- A virtual briefing event was held that addressed the importance of biodiversity, biodiversity within Dundee and results of the biodiversity and naturalised grassland consultation. Attendance at this event was high and although there were questions about the grasslands project, the feedback was generally positive and supportive.
To communicate to local citizens:
- Signs were erected at all locations explaining the intention to create longer grass that would benefit biodiversity.
- Following feedback, interest generated from these signs and discussions with local people, it was decided to launch an online city-wide consultation to gauge opinions of local communities across Dundee.
The feedback from the city-wide consultation was overall very positive, although some changes were made to the selected sites. New signs were procured to install at the sites; these provide a QR code linking to further information. All eight biodiversity sites will get ‘Feeding the Bees’ signs. The naturalised grassland areas will get ‘Wild Grass’ signs. These are being prioritised in highly visible areas and sites that have received lots of enquiries.
Local community groups have been involved in community planting and will help with yellow rattle seed harvesting during 2022. Ongoing engagement work with communities has been possible because of the creation of a temporary two-year Community Environment Officer post supported by additional Scottish Government funds that were available to local authorities.
How is it looked after and maintained?
The naturalised grass areas are cut on an annual basis with arisings left in situ.
The biodiversity grasslands are cut after the seed has set and been collected in autumn. The arisings are removed and taken to be composted at a nearby Council owned recycling centre. This compost, made from green waste from parks and commercial landscapers, as well as domestic food waste is sold under the brand name ‘Discovery Compost’. There is also potential for an early spring cut depending on competing grasses and other extraneous factors, such as weather conditions and machine availability.
Additional instruction and education on naturalised and biodiversity meadow management is planned for operations staff to ensure areas are cut at the correct time, and arisings dealt with appropriately. ‘Tool Box’ talks have been rolled out to supervisory staff and information will be filtered down to staff on the ground with further possible talks given where required over the winter months. They budgetinclude an informative recorded PowerPoint created by a Greenspace Officer and a Countryside Ranger accompanied by a short video introduction. This can be provided on request by getting in touch with Alison Abercrombie at Dundee City Council.
An older model Amazone machine, designed for cut and lift is used. As the Council is planning to expand biodiversity grassland maintenance into other areas, it has identified some funding through the Nature Restoration Fund and other maintenance budgets to purchase new machinery this financial year. There may also be scope for hand tools such as scythes, sickles and hay rakes for community events around harvest.
To monitor the project, as well as organising surveying events in summer, the Community Environment Officer has carried out a number of engagement sessions over the summer engaging local park users to record what they find on an ad hoc basis, submitting data to national databases through iRecord and other similar citizen science apps. Site user surveying will be used to monitor how public opinion on the spaces has changed.
Cost of the project
The capital investment in these two parks has been around £10,000. This was secured from the Nature Restoration Fund.
The naturalised grassland areas have annual maintenance cost savings, whereas the biodiversity managed grasslands cost more to maintain than the amenity grassland they replaced.
Benefits from the project
An objective of the project was to educate the public on the critical importance of biodiversity, as well as providing opportunity to get physically involved in its conservation. During the process, it became apparent that it would be beneficial to extend the educational opportunity to include council colleagues and elected members.
This is now happening, and the work is ongoing as it takes time to bed in. A dedicated staff member, the Community Environment Officer, is focusing on encouraging and supporting individual communities in planting and monitoring activities.
Issues and challenges
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. Many people are very attached to their local greenspaces and others feel that the management of these areas reflects on the standing of the whole city. This is reflected in quotes from respondents:
“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.”
“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”
Maintaining a flexible approach has been key to success. Ongoing dialogue with residents and interest groups has been essential, with flexibility to take on board local observations.
Procurement processes in councils do not always take into account the issues of niche projects such as these, where factors such as local provenance and carbon footprint are important. This can lead to increased processing times and may impact on delivery of the project.
There were also challenges with the preparations needed to sow the seed:
“Yellow rattle requires a period of stratification (prolonged low temperatures) to germinate. We faced challenges in preparing the ground and sowing the seed in advance of the coldest months to give the seed the best chance of germination. The Myrekirk meadow surrounds a scheduled monument, and as such we needed to ensure scarification work would not interfere with the archaeology of the site.”
Alison Abercrombie, Greenspace Officer, Dundee City Council
Learning and advice
The consultation took place during the first COVID-19 lockdown, and so staff were unable to canvas as thoroughly as they would have liked, relying primarily on digital web-based means. In future, they would ideally do more in-person consultation, alongside digital, to get a broader spectrum of community views.
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 helps to be flexible with the delivery and be able to adapt to issues and public feedback.
At Lochee and Myrekirk Parks, the Environment Management Team will continue to manage the naturalised grasslands with minimal mechanical intervention. Yellow rattle will be left to grow throughout the growing season, then cut and lifted in autumn after seed has been collected.
Additional funding from the Nature Restoration Fund has been used to plant bulbs and sow additional wildflower seed in other parks across the city.
There are no current plans to extend the naturalised grassland areas across the city. The priority is to manage the current sites effectively and efficiently before looking to expand.
Monitoring progress and success of plant implementation is being done by taking part in local and national surveying events that involve local communities, using citizen science apps, such as iRecord and iNaturalist. There are plans for ongoing community engagement through planting activities.
The new Eden Project will 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. They will also be involved across the project as a whole, this will help to increase community engagement.
Alison Abercrombie, Greenspace Officer, Dundee City Council.