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Good road verge management

Many of our verges are types of grassland and can support a diverse range of species if managed in the right way. However, many of our road verges today have been reduced to plain strips of grass with barely a dandelion as a result of poorly timed and repeated cutting. We recommend managing our road verges, wherever possible, in the way we look after our traditional flower-rich meadows, with one cut at the end of the summer and the removal of the cuttings to keep nutrient levels in the soil low.

Our steps to good road verge management:

  • Where possible, cut the full width of the verge once a year, no earlier than the end of August and no later than the end of March.
  • Where a full width cut is not possible, cut the widest possible margin: at least 1m to 2m width.
  • Where a verge has been cut in autumn, and early spring growth has been particularly vigorous, a second cut in spring may be carried out. This cut must be carried out no later than the end of March.
  • Where a road passes through woodland, cutting should be carried out no later than the end of January.
  • Between the beginning of April and the end of August, do not cut the verge except where absolutely necessary to maintain sight-lines or for other road-safety purposes.
  • Gather and remove cuttings wherever possible, either by hand or by use of suitable cut-and-collect machinery.
  • Where a verge cannot be cut annually, it may be possible to maintain its wild flower interest by cutting every other year. However, in this circumstance, removal of all cuttings will be essential.
  • Small patches of scrub may be retained, as this will benefit birds and other wildlife, and should be managed by cutting on a rotation of up to 10 years.
  • Always avoid the use of pesticides, except where absolutely necessary to control invasive plants or pest problems where alternative techniques are ineffective.

Where a verge has a particular wild flower interest, for example where it supports a rare or threatened wild plant or a particularly important grassland habitat, specialist advice should be sought regarding the most appropriate management regime. In many counties, networks of Roadside Nature Reserves have been set up by the local highways authority, often in partnership with other organisations and making use of local volunteers, to protect and conserve the most important stretches of road verge.

Keen to get involved in the conservation of your local road verges?

  • Contact your local council and find out if there is a protected road verges programme and whether you can talk to the coordinator
  • Collect as much information on the verge as you can, exact location, a species list of plants (as complete as you can make it), photos and a record of any inappropriate management. Send these to your Local Record Centre, if there is one, or your national nature agency (Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage or the Countryside Council or Wales).
  • If you live in England you can offer to become a road verge monitor for your local council. Even if you don’t know a verge you may be assigned one locally to you. It’s a fantastic way to become acquainted with wildflowers and protect a bit of local biodiversity. Most counties hold training days to learn about plants and meet fellow volunteers.

Who is responsible for our road verges?

County councils across England, Scotland and Wales are responsible for the management of the majority of road verges across their particular county. The exception is for our main trunk roads and motorways which are managed by The Highways Agency in England, by the department of Local Government and Communities in Wales and by Transport Scotland.