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 26.

    I wonder who is responsible for paving over front gardens?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    I agree with pappashanga about putting some thought into it. One trunk road around here had about 3 fatalities per fortnight back in the days of my youth and close attention to sight lines and quite aggressive cutting prevent those days returning. However, there is a need for careful planning to balance all the factors and how we treat the inside and outside of corners can clearly be different.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I would be interested to know how many nesting birds and small animals are killed by the indiscriminate cutting of verges and hedgerows. Is it really necessary to use long reach mechanical tools to cut these valuable refuges for wild life, surely it is only necessary to cut the grass a few feet from the road.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    All I see are masses of dandelions, their seeds must spread to local gardens which is a nuisance, they will eventually screen out nicer wildflowers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I have emailed SCC yesterday about this. They have cut the verges A24, which is a dual bypass, with very few crossing points. Last year they did this, but what was worst, they cut the verges on the Caple buy pass when full of daisies.I read that that Mick Jones said safety, well I am 5 foot nothing, and would rather have the verges,than a waste land when I go walking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    All UK councils have had their budgets cut and are cutting vital services and blameing central government for cutting their budget. So why are they wasting money on expensive grass cutting, especially when they put even more expensive lane closures on roads while they cut the grass too. Let the verge manage itself and just cut it around road signs and near junctions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    It is important to cut grass for highway safety, equally most Councils do protect areas where there are rare species, it is striking that balance. It would be too expensive to remove the grass, many Councils have reduced their grass cutting standards, particularly urban grass, to save money.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.


    Nonsense. Your comment implies we should encourage more urban foxes to reduce the out-of-control rat population. Laughable.

    At Heathrow, near terminal 4, instead of mowing all the verges, they have used intelligent landscaping to encourage plant life.

    But they don't want to encourage birds as clearly demonstrated on Thursday.

    What action would you take to reduce vermin?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Every time you see a discarded takeaway package there's a rat saying, "thank you very much that'll do me nicely".

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Some wooly thinking here. For example, what's the difference between wildflowers and weeds? Nettles flower, for example, as does bindweed, daisy etc etc etc. Our countryside is almost entirely man-made and has been managed, or mismanaged, for centuries. In suburban areas, people allow their gardens to overgrow walls, blocking roads and footpaths - perhaps councils should do more here..

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    "Councils must strike the right balance between road safety and wildlife,"

    Does this mean a human life is worth just as much as a wild flower's?

    I wonder...

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The problem with councils is that those in charge are usually clueless.
    Overpaid and underbrained.

    It would be such a refreshing change if they consulted with local residents, especially those who have lived ina a place a long time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Avondale 47
    We don't have the problem of the council cutting our grass verges or cleaning our footpaths because drivers park their cars on them (informed by local wpc that it is not illegal to park in this way).

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    If verges are to be cut for the sake of safety then just cut them more than the requested twice where vision around bends etc make it necessary. It isn't rocket science and a little thought and innovation satisfies everyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Very true if it was true, I certainly do not see this as a problem in our area - except open grassy areas which need to be mown.

    Greater is the problem hedge destruction by flailing done by farmers.

    Sympathy always should be with the wildlife especially in suburban and country areas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Three cheers for Plantlife! There should be very few situations where safety issues compel the cutting of verges: I take 'A Realist's' point about urban vermin but grass verges that are abundant in wild flowers and wildlife habitats are primarily a feature of rural areas. They are a treasure trove. Let them be properly managed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Local councils in the UK seem to be a self-serving parasitic growth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    If you 'cull' the foxes the urban rat problem will get much worse.
    Keep the verges tidy, but put some thought into it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    In 2011 we had a lovely verge full of oxeye dasies and the local council (Rotherham) left them there until they'd finished flowering. Last year they came along and cut them all down before they'd even flowered, they couldn't claim it was for road or pedestrian safety, as they were growing on a bank that slopes up from the pavement up to a farmers field, so did not block sight lines or road signs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    In the next 40 years our world pop will increase by 3 billion. That's more than all the EU, all of Africa, North and South America combined right now. we don't even have the infrastructure to deal with our population now, never mind an ever growing population. Some protected green belt sites at some point will start taking hits, there is just no getting around this.


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