Planting to support biodiversity at Catz

Monday 6 November 2023


St Catharine’s is pleased to announce a new planting scheme for the lawn in Main Court, which will be implemented from November 2023 as part of ongoing efforts to improve biodiversity across the College’s gardens. 

 In the environmental sustainability strategy published in 2022, St Catharine’s set out a vision for “future generations to inherit an environment that is healthier and more biodiverse” and included “biodiversity and ecosystems” as one of six focus areas for the College’s future activities.

Dr Noriko Amano-Patiño (2021), Environmental Fellow at St Catharine’s and chair of the College’s Green Working Group, commented:

“I am delighted with the progress that has already been made across our gardens to improve biodiversity and fully support the plans to add more planted areas in Main Court to enable local ecology to thrive. Thank you to Alan North, our Head Gardener, for making this possible and to the College’s Governing Body, who voted in favour of breaking with the traditional appearance of Main Court in order to create a more biodiverse future.”

New plans for Main Court

Main Court of St Catharine's College
Before: The lawn in Main Court

In November, the College’s gardeners will remove seven sections of grass from the lawn in Main Court, exposing soil on all four corners and three of the sides. A range of new plants will then be introduced that have been chosen with biodiversity in mind: a palette of perennials on the corners, and wildflower and annual meadows on each side.

Alan North said, “The aim of the planting scheme is to increase and support biodiversity along with adding colour and seasonal interest in the process. We will begin the planting in November as this is perfect time to be adding dormant plants and bulbs. This will give the plants plenty of rainfall over the winter ensuring they establish well and are ready to burst into life in the spring!”

“Introducing a planting scheme of any sort in the Main Court lawn was always going to be a horticultural challenge. The north side is south-facing and gets full sun, while the south side is in full shade for a lot of the day. A large portion of the lawn has been retained so this can continue to be used for College events like our annual May Week Concert or the biennial May Ball. I respect that some people are attached to the history, formality and impact of the striped lawn of grass, which we will continue to maintain in between the new planted sections.”

Illustrated plan of the planting scheme for Main Court at St Catharine's College
After: A plan of the new areas that will be planted with either perennial or meadow plants (illustration by Liza Zhabina)

The College is planning routine surveys of the hoverflies found in Main Court, which are a good indicator of wider biodiversity and important pollinators. Professor David Aldridge (1997), Dawson College Professor of Zoology, and his colleague Professor William Amos, an expert in UK hoverflies and Professor of Evolutionary Genetics at the University’s Department of Zoology, kindly conducted a baseline study earlier this summer. They identified five hoverfly species, including Sphaerophoria rueppellii (Rueppel's Globetail), a widespread but uncommon species.

Professor Bill Amos and Professor David Aldridge in Main Court, St Catharine's College
Professors Amos and Aldridge in Main Court this summer
Sphaerophoria rueppellii (Rueppel's Globetail) in Main Court, St Catharine's College
Sphaerophoria rueppellii (Rueppel's Globetail) was spotted in Main Court (credit: Professor Bill Amos)

Existing activities

  • When the Central Spaces major building project was completed in 2022, a living roof was installed above the new dining hall, which is home to native wildflowers that make an otherwise inhospitable area more attractive to local insects and other wildlife. 
  • During the Central Spaces project, a temporary marquee (nicknamed the Catzebo) was installed in Main Court in 2020–22 and shielded with a screen of potted plants and trees which have since been safely stored so that they can be reused in planting schemes. 
  • The College supplements the diet of local birds through its bird feeders across our gardens, which will be topped up during the winter months. These include a new bird-feeding station installed in Dawson Court, thanks to a donation in memory of the late Claire Sugden, Housekeeping Assistant at St Catharine’s.
  • The four rectangular flower beds on the pathway at the front/eastern edge of Main Court have already been planted to support biodiversity and have been buzzing with insects. There was a spotting earlier in October of a hummingbird hawk-month, a summer visitor to the UK that feeds on nectar-rich flowers (see the video below).
  • A new greenhouse was installed in the garden at the St Chad’s site in October 2023. This is larger than the one previously available to Alan and his team, to enable them to grow more plants from seed or seedling than has been possible before. 
Living roof above the Hall at St Catharine's College
The living roof above the Hall was planted in 2022 (credit: Peter Armstrong, SDC)
Bird-feeding station at St Catharine's College
The bird-feeding station in Dawson Court