Roadside verges – an undervalued haven for wildlife? by Sarah Foot

  • Roadside verges are so often overlooked and undervalued as areas important for wildlife. However, these small parcels of undisturbed land can offer a vital corridor for a wide range of animals and areas in which plant species can thrive in an otherwise busy and fragmented landscape. Sunny banks on the side of motorways offer perfect basking opportunities for reptiles and infrequent cuts with very little nutrient enrichment has allowed orchids to survive and multiply. Since opening, one new 4.5 mile stretch of road in Dorset (equating to 7 hectares) has had recordings of more than half of the species of butterfly known to inhabit Britain. In some areas through lockdown, Councils were forced to reduce their mowing regimes and people were starting to really appreciate the buzz of insect life that were making the most of these uncut areas during their daily walks.

    I was lucky enough to get involved with a project to ‘rewild’ the verges in Flackwell Heath in 2019 as part of a fantastic community project set up by Flackwild Heath. It all started with three enthusiastic families who prepared the verges outside their houses in 2018 and created a burst of colour in spring 2019 that started to be recognised by local people and interest in expanding the project grew. Families and friends joined forces to prepare small strips of grassland verges with wildflower seeds outside their homes in the autumn of 2019. The grass was mown short and raked hard to open up areas of the soil ready for seeds. A native mix of wildflower seeds were scattered and included a good proportion of yellow rattle seed. Yellow rattle will target and prevent growth of vigorous grass species reducing competition for space in the spring growing season allowing wildflowers to take hold. Wooden Flackwild Heath signs handmade by the original families who started the project were distributed and help identify the sown areas for Councils to avoid during their mowing regimes. One positive outcome of the pandemic was a reduction in Council mowing regimes and all the plots were left uncut during the first cut of the verges. We were all so pleased to see our hard work paying off this spring with amazing swathes of colour appearing in April and May and the seed mixes chosen meant the flowering continued throughout the summer. This couldn’t have come at a better time when the village entered lockdown and daily walks were vital to many people and the verges could be truly appreciated. Check out the progress of this inspiring community project here

    Marlow Town Council approached us about trialling wildflower verges across the town and this will be expanded in 2021. Look out for these splashes of colour next year and we hope that a reduced mowing regime and encouragement of diversity will be a common sight across all towns and villages in the future. It will really bring a buzz to our communities!

    Why not create your own wildflower mini meadow in your garden by preparing a strip of grassland this autumn and reap the benefits in spring 2021?

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