Grass verge wildlife 'destroyed by councils'

Bee Wildflowers on grass verges are a food source for bees and butterflies

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Councils in the UK are destroying wildlife habitats by cutting grass verges too often, a charity has warned.

Plantlife said verges supported hundreds of species of flowering plants and should be cut twice a year.

It said three-quarters of councils it surveyed cut them multiple times. It received many calls from people "distraught" about the issue, it added.

But the Local Government Association (LGA) said keeping verges shorter was safer for both drivers and pedestrians.

Plantlife is calling on councils to better manage the almost 600,000 acres (240,000 hectares) of roadside verges across the country.

The verges support up to 1,000 plant species - including the rare bastard balm and long-leaved helleborine which are among 33 wayside flowers faced with extinction.

One road verge in Warwickshire has the country's largest population of pyramidal orchids.

It also has the UK's largest population of rockrose which attracts the scarce brown argus butterfly to the verge.

Plantlife said the A30 and A38 roads in Cornwall and Devon supported more than 1,000 acres of flower-rich grassland and one junction alone was home to six orchid species, including bee orchids and 1,100 greater butterfly orchids.

Wildflowers are also a vital food source for bees and butterflies, which have seen a significant decline in numbers in recent years.

Wildflowers that are left to seed also feed birds and small mammals.

'Thuggish plants'

Plantlife said verges should be cut - and the cuttings removed - once early in the year and again in the late summer.

Start Quote

Most verges, smothered in cuttings, might as well be just strips of concrete”

End Quote Trevor Dines, Plantlife

Its survey found they were often cut multiple times over the summer.

None of the councils surveyed collected the cuttings, which rotted down and added nutrients to the soil - making it too rich for most wildflowers

Plantlife's Trevor Dines said the way road verges were managed encouraged "coarse and thuggish plants" such as nettles, docks and coarse grasses.

"Most verges, smothered in cuttings, might as well be just strips of concrete," he said.

"Plantlife receives more calls on this subject than any other from members of the public distraught and angry that their favourite verges, full of cowslips and orchids, are being mown down in the name of neatness and good management."

Start Quote

Keeping road verges well maintained ensures that motorists have a good line of sight and allows pedestrians to walk more safely alongside busy roads”

End Quote Mike Jones, LGA

He urged people to help lobby for change by sending the charity "before" and "after" pictures of mown verges.

He said the charity was working with several councils, including Worcestershire and Hampshire, to protect plants including Deptford pinks and tower mustard.

LGA environment and housing board chairman Mike Jones said Britain's wild flowers were important and councils encouraged native species "where they can".

"However, councils must strike the right balance between road safety and wildlife," he said.

"Keeping road verges well maintained ensures that motorists have a good line of sight and allows pedestrians to walk more safely alongside busy roads.

"It also prevents weeds and foreign species from spreading into private gardens."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    In the small Devon town where I live our main public green space is mowed over and over again. In between wild flowers grow (mostly common plants but better than nothing). I can stand and hear the bees humming when it is like this, but then it is mowed flat again. If the council did not do this they might be able to afford to repair the potholes and broken pavements.

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    I worked in France for many years, the commune policy was verge cutting should be minimal because of the effects of intensive farming on nature. The same farming culture is in the UK but sadly the same understanding of the needs of nature isn't isn't shared by LA's. This is an area where small but certainly significant saving can be made. The problem here is that this requires some vision.........

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    Reducing the unnecessary cutting of verges not only save council tax payers thousands of pounds. This obsession with health and safety is expensive and pointless since you cannot legislate common sense. Also seriously how rarely have grown verges caused you potential accidents? I live in a rural area and after 21 years of driving I can count zero. And the verges here are not cut that frequently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    A pity that there is so little countryside left that we need to rely on verges and tiny strips of land to preserve wild plants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    I don't know about the cutting of grass verges damaging wildlife, but I know the number of cars on grass verges outside houses that should be on the roads are increasing.... Perhaps they and their habitats are under attack from lazy motorists tyres... It churns the grass verges up and leaves little room for pedestrians to walk!


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