To mow or not to mow, that is the question; the Granby Land Trust has the answer

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Photo by Shirley Murtha

Granby Land Trust vice president Dave Emery checks on a wood duck nesting box in the Stevenson Field of the Dismal Brook Wildlife Preserve.

The Granby Land Trust has long understood the consequences that mowing inflicts on the organisms that inhabit the fields on its properties, and has taken action to ensure the least detrimental effects possible. For example, around eight years ago, mowing was banned on the agricultural field at the Nuckols Preserve to protect the turtles and snakes. Work on the Mary Edwards Mountain Property has always been done with an eye to making sure that pollinators and nesting birds are protected. Recently, the organization has become stewards of several properties that include fields that need to be mowed. The realization that the disappearing habitats of so many species of insects, amphibians, reptiles and birds has been a factor in the decline of these groups has caused the Land Trust to re-visit and formalize its mowing practices.

I recently talked to the Land Trust’s vice-president and agricultural community liaison Dave Emery about how the organization has developed its mowing protocol. He began by noting that it was only natural that farmers would want to mow their hay fields for the “first cut” while the plants were fresh, and their meadows when the tall vegetation made the area look unkempt. This was usually in June, which turns out to be the worst possible time for the birds, turtles, snakes and many mammals such as deer that have made nests and are nurturing their eggs or young in those fields. Not visible to the person on the tractor, many of these young are sacrificed for the sake of a hay cut or a neat appearance.

At first, the Land Trust deemed that the months of May and June would be exempt from mowing fields, but under the guidance of board member and avian specialist John Weeks, it was realized that many birds produce second clutches in the latter half of the summer, so the July 4 date to begin mowing was moved up to Aug. 1. Emery noted that Land Trust board member Jen Plourde has been particularly helpful in educating those involved about other significant ecological relationships. For example, she noted that an Aug. 1 mowing was not pollinator-friendly given the importance of the fall goldenrod bloom. Also, the monarch butterflies need as much milkweed as they can get on which to lay their eggs in August and September. Their decreasing numbers definitely call for further mowing consideration, so the date was moved again, this time to Oct. 1.

Still not to the bottom of the rabbit hole, the board became aware that many insects important for the propagation of myriad plant life depend on the vegetation in these fields. Think of the praying mantis cocoons attached to sturdy stalks and the native bees living in hollow stems. They are just the tip of the iceberg; there are hundreds of species too small to garner our attention, but they play important roles.

The conclusion to this conundrum is that necessary mowing will take place after the first frost and before April 1. There will always be some disruption, but this is the least detrimental time range. Also, Emery stated that, when possible, half of a given field can be mowed one year, and the other half the alternate year. This allows whatever species are in that field a full year to complete their life cycles.

In addition to taking care of its own properties, the Land Trust has been encouraging its members to be protective of whatever amount of yard they possess, as evidenced by two recent zoom presentations it hosted with the Granby Public Library. Simply stated, homeowners are encouraged to mow less and plant for pollinators. One doesn’t have to have many acres to help: each of us who has some area of our yard that can be left to a cycle of natural growth can contribute to the health of the planet. The Land Trust is doing its best to protect habitats and species when and wherever possible.