Roadsides are an important haven for many British wildflower species. These unassuming patches of grass are often cut vigorously by local authorities and councils who overlook their importance to British wildlife by keeping them trim and neat. But often without knowing, mowers and strimmers are destroying the rare and important wildflowers that call these strips and patches of rough ground, home.
According to Plantlife, a national charity focused on wildflowers and conservation, “there are nearly 313,500 miles of rural road verge in the UK – equivalent in area to our remaining lowland species-rich grassland. 700 species of wildflower grow on road verges – nearly 45% of our total flora – but [since 1990] there has been a 20% drop in floral diversity due to poor management and nutrient pollution”. The report published today is a Best Practice Guide aimed at improving things for our native wildflower species.
It might not be much of a surprise that our roadsides are one of the most important assets our countryside has, being home to many rare species of flower and fauna. Plantlife state that “… a staggering 97% of wildflower meadows have been eradicated in less than a century, grassland road verges are crucial wildlife habitats … including 29 of 52 species of wild orchid including rarities such as the lizard orchid.”
The charity has called for a Less and Later approach to cutting. Less cutting and keeping it later in the year will help to build up seedbanks; restore the diversity of wildflowers; revitalise pollinator habitats estimated to equal the size of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff AND Edinburgh combined and would ultimately save councils money.
The report is aimed at managers whose oversight includes maintenance of verges and is supported by Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, national highways agencies Highways England, Transport Scotland and Welsh Government, industry bodies Skanska and Kier, and wildlife organisations Butterfly Conservation and The Wildlife Trusts. Download the report here and read more about their campaign to improve roadside verges.
We can only hope this valuable report ends up making a significant impact in the way that councils view roadside habitats. It’s been encouraging to see the wildflower patches in my home city of Exeter which has been springing up as part of the Exeter Wild City project which is a joint venture between Devon Wildlife Trust (they’re PtbG members!) and Exeter City Council.