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 486.

    Times to cut and times not to cut. Some councils seem not to know when birds nest and animals breed

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    It is a dreadful problem, bees and birds need the wildflowers on verges and berries on the contracter-shredded countryside hedges to survive and especially so with the ever more unpredictable climate. I think people also need to take more responsibility, how many gardens have been 100% paved over in your area? How many people hire Green Thumb to monoculture their grass?

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    Ok, point taken. If a publicly funded council can make money out of private waste and laziness, great. Given the costs of making fertiliser (it takes a LOT of energy), the total loss might be more than the gain though, and that's not counting the costs councils bear in dealing with runoff pollution in rivers. The whole thing stinks, even if councils manage to limit it. Should be stopped at source.

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    @482 Crow
    I agree about home composting Crow, but our local council now actually makes a profit out of green waste by composting it on a commercial basis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    From 477. Adie:
    "...almost certainly the result of hugely overpriced outsourcing contracts..."

    That reminds me of those 'green' garden waste bags. I've seen many suburban streets full of those. Fuel and work wasted to do what those house owners should be doing on their own compost heaps. Wasting money to deprive whole areas of natural nutrients, so they then waste more on fertiliser. Insane!

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    440 thelostdot "Does any body know good places to scatter wild flower seeds>"

    It depends on what the mix of flowers is, some need a sunny spot on poor soil, others like damp ground at their roots, some prefer chalky soil, and so on..
    But to just generalise, I think they`d have a good chance of going unmolested if you scattered them along a railway embankment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    Yes lets all get rid of the council, oh hang on

    first make sure you pick my rubbish up, sort out the taxi guy who gave me a load of verbal, prosecute the catering co who made us all ill at last weeks wedding, have a go at the private Landlord who,s renting out unfit housing, cut the grass/or not - once they,ve done all that then get rid of them bunch of jobsworth!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    If the councils need to save money

    Plant the verges with wild flowers and STOP house owners block paving gardens

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    Why not put George Osborne in charge of our grass verges, then they wouldn't need cutting.
    There'd be no growth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    Surely they could save some money by cutting verges less or are they are worried about rampant wildlife devouring our towns and villages? In fact it’s almost certainly the result of hugely overpriced outsourcing contracts committing councils to having their grass cut, verges tidied and hedges lopped every day between April and October whether it’s good for them or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    It's a mess isn't it. Roadside verges near my home are becoming full of Himalayan Balsam and litter nothing else, some people have a great deal to answer for. As I watch Lapwing chicks being ploughed into the ground because the farmer doesn't give a toss, another dead hedgehog on the road, I feel like giving up, there are just too many people that don't care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    If true, I find it ironic that the same councils who do not maintain the roads (especially country lanes) yet waste time and money on the hedgerows. It smacks of incompetence which is endemic in local government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    Cars are a ruddy nuisance, wild life and wild flowers are interesting.

    Boris Johnson intends to ban cars entirely from the City Square mile. Hope he does it, make them all walk. Perhaps he will bring back hedgerows and wild flower verges? There used to sheep, cows and chickens in Cheapside. Lets bring them back as well

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    There are approx. 1350 square miles of verges lining UK paved roads; the size of Greater London. As our farms over-use chemicals we don't leave much for wildlife. The Highlands etc. are full of sheep so only short grass can grow. Even NL with much higher density of population is nicer to nature. (ntm people)

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    49 Minutes ago
    Rubbish. Where I live in the West Country the Local Council mow very seldom- their "reason" is they save money!
    So what happens, is miles of dandylions opposite our houses that spread like wildfire into our gardens.
    It is all a scam to "SAVE MONEY!" and nothing to do with protecting our wild life.


    You object to all those free salad leaves!

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.


    'Too many examples of money being wasted to mention here.'

    Just treat us to a couple then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    Natural England, should be taking an interest in this issue. I would be very interested to know why or if there was no comment from them during this piece.

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    4 Hours ago

    Freedom is the best regulator, not "better government".


    "Freedom" cannot be a regulator because it is only a concept and not a mechanism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    Sue Doughcup - I realise in Britain it is always thought to be a great idea to run people down for their misfortune, but in most of the world, and with most decent people it is uncivilised. It is even worse because the criticism is based on hearsay, and ignorant platitudes. I was always taught before you criticise others take a long hard look at yourself. Britain has a pretty despicable record.

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    I question the claim that residents are "distraught" that verges are cut "too often". In my experience far, far more council tax payers are disraught that cut backs in council services have left verges that were traditionaly cut by the Council/Farmers, now left uncut & scruffy in our villages. So much so that we have cut the verges ourselves - quite short & neat to enhance appearances.


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