Supporting the Road Verges Campaign
Oxfordshire County Council
Dorset County Council
Shropshire County Council
East Cambridgeshire District Council
Campaign to Save Nature on Road Verges: wildflowers protected in Oxfordshire
Rural road verges are a vital refuge for wild flowers driven out of our farmland. In turn, wild flowers support our birds, bees and other wildlife. We want to see road verges managed better whilst remaining safe for motorists. Not only can it be done – it could save money as well...
A number of road verges in Oxfordshire have been identified as having ecological interest and have been marked with ‘Nature Reserve’ posts indicating the length of the verge to be safeguarded and maintained.
Twelve of these verges lie within the Wychwood Forest area – a 120sq miles of former royal hunting forest. Three of these, along with another two promising verges and four community green spaces have been chosen as the focus of a Wychwood Project initiative to improve flora diversity and density.
Supported by the Wychwood Project Flora Group, Oxfordshire County Council’s Environment & Strategy Officer, the Save Our Magnificent Meadows project and enthusiastic volunteers including a retired ecologist, the initiative will gather seed using a suction vacuum and hand picking, ready for sowing in September.
Seed will be gathered from the most flora rich road verge nature reserves in the area, for example ‘Ranger’s lawn’ dominated by limestone loving species including salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor), milkwort (Polygala vulgaris), bee orchids (Ophrys apifera), bellflowers (Campanula sp.) and green hellebore (Helleborus viridis).
Sharon Williams, Wychwood Project Director says “As well as their ecological value, road verges can play an important role in bringing the countryside into people’s everyday lives. Verges in our area make a major contribution to the beauty of the Wychwood landscape and are one of the most viewed habitats by both locals and tourists.”
Dorset Council manages road verges better for nature
Dorset County Council have recognised the importance of the relatively undisturbed nature of a verge. A wonderfully varied county, Dorset's limestone rocks contrast with some of the most important lowland heathland left in Britain. Combine these with spectacular coast you can see why the county is a botanical hot-spot.
We are lucky to have some stunningly beautiful verges” says Graham Stanley, Senior Ranger of Dorset Countryside “with a wide range of habitats that support an even wider range of wildlife. Rare species of orchid, for example, can thrive here whereas on the other side of the hedge, in an arable, or heavily grazed field, they simply cannot.
Dorset’s verges are lush and verdant, boasting a wide range of both familiar and rare flowers. Damp verges across the open heathlands support Dorset heather, pale butterwort, and marsh helleborine orchids, whilst a dry sandy verge nearby boasted a fine colony of lizard orchids in the recent past. The chalkland verges are often beautiful too, with local abundance of cowslips and pyramidal orchids and, just occasionally, rarities such as wood vetch and fly orchid.
Wildlife conservation can co-exist with the need for road safety” Graham adds “changing people's views on what is a safe and 'pretty' verge is one of our most important roles.
What Dorset County Council are doing
Dorset County Council have adopted Plantlife’s management guidelines and take a unique approach, with trials underway to improve biodiversity and reduce the need for cutting.
These are investigating different methods of management designed to lower soil fertility, leading to reduced grass growth and less frequent cutting and ultimately saving money. For example:
- Stripping topsoil to expose lower-fertility subsoil or mineral rock
- Harvesting "mini bales" from the roadside verges where possible
- Reducing the growth of grass using yellow rattle
- Grazing verges with sheep to mimic traditional meadow management
- Using grass clippings as a source of fuel for biomass generators to produce rural electricity
Protecting wildflower-rich roadside verges in Shropshire
Shropshire is valued for its beautiful countryside and wealth of wildlife. Its road verges are no exception - that's why its taking steps to safeguard them.
This precious 'biodiversity' is in great need of careful protection and constant management - common species such as bees and other pollinating insects, and wild flowers such as cowslips, have declined dramatically over recent years.
As a consequence, Shropshire County Council cut a limited width of most rural verges only once a year. By keeping the width of cutting to a minimum, the remaining verge area can provide an important habitat for wildflowers and wildlife.
Some of the best are even protected as local wildlife sites or sites of special scientific interest. If you live in Shropshire and feel there's a verge that needs protecting you can let the council know here: Reporting wildlife-rich roadside verges
Road verges with nature reserves are a cut above the rest
Central Bedfordshire’s roadside grass verges are playing an important role in preserving endangered species of bees, butterflies and insects.
Along with cutting 1,100km of rural grass verge in Central Bedfordshire three times a year, recently appointed contractors Mudrock Ltd are currently looking after 16km of Road Verge Nature Reserves. They are working with the Council’s Ecologist towards adding up to 30km of additional Road Verge Nature Reserves over the next year.
To maintain the Road Verge Nature Reserves, Mudrock will cut a narrower 1.2m swath twice a year, for safe driving visibility; owner Paul Dowling and his team will cut the full width of the verge just once a year, collecting and taking away the cuttings to promote good growing conditions for our valuable wild flowers, including the ultra rare Sulphur Clover, found at only 10 sites in Central Bedfordshire.
Cllr Brian Spurr, Executive Member for Community Services, said: “Roadside verges offer vital refuges for rare wildlife and plants. By adopting a special cutting programme for our Road Verge Nature Reserves, we are able to do more to protect our local environment."
Bee Orchids to be preserved with new mowing programme
Bee orchids (Ophrys apifera) discovered in Ely will be given the opportunity to flourish thanks to a new mowing programme.
The regular grass cutters for East Cambridgeshire District Council, recently found a small colony of bee orchids, which they mowed around for protection. This and other sightings were reported to the Ely Local Group of the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, who completed a survey of the area, discovering many more plants in the process. A mowing programme has since been created to enhance these protected plants, with the hope that this will help them fully establish.
As part of the new mowing programme, grass cutting will be adapted to accommodate the flowering times of the plants. The bee orchids will not be in flower until around June or July, meaning grass cutters will be careful to cut around them. The plants will then be allowed to set seed and complete their reproductive cycle before regular maintenance mowing is reinstated.
The colonies of bee orchids can mainly be found along the verges of Norfolk Road and the public open space off Beresford Road - sandwiched between Collier Close and Brooke Grove. Signs have been erected at these locations to notify the public and, where possible, attractive paths will be cut around the bee orchids in order to retain public use of these areas.
Spencer Clark, Open Spaces and Facilities Manager, said: “East Cambridgeshire District Council has been working hard with Plantlife and The Ely Local Group of the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire and decided to take part in the scheme for the City of Ely. This will ensure that these rare plants are protected and their colonies nurtured, while maintaining the area for recreational use.”
Dr Terry Moore, added: “The national charity, Plantlife, is promoting a scheme to preserve the roadside habitats of rare wild plants. The Ely Local Group of the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire decided to collaborate in the scheme with East Cambridgeshire District Council within the City of Ely. I am delighted to say that the plan to defer mowing of certain identified areas until these rare and wonderful plants have flowered and seeded has been agreed.”
If residents spot colonies of bee orchids, or other rare plants around the city, they can report them to Dr Moore on 01353 664745. He will then ask members of the Local Group and the Ely U3A Botany group to confirm their identity before notifying the Open Spaces team at the Council.