Roadside verges are all around us yet their potential benefits for wildlife might not be obvious. In the past, Council Highways contractors would maintain verges as wildlife poor ‘amenity grass land’ with regular mowing schedules. On top of this, some members of the public perceive overgrown verges as unattractive, that they attract litter and are unsafe.
Simple Changes Bringing Big Bio-diversity Benefits
In 2014, Council Biodiversity Officers identified large tracts of verges where they felt that planting, sowing or changes in mowing could bring big biodiversity gains. The ‘On the Verge’ project rolled into action to enhance wildflower, insect and birdlife on these roadside verges in Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley.
By Spring 2019 the project had helped:
- 12km of verges be managed for wildlife
- Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley Councils pledge to continue managing these verges using the ‘On the Verge: Biodiversity Manual’ researched and written as part of the project.
What the Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership did:
The Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership funded independent ecologists, Baker Consultants, to manage ‘On the Verge’ for five years. A key objective of the project was increasing understanding of the value of roadside verges for biodiversity amongst decision makers and local communities. To do this, the project team built relationships with:
- Council departments
- The Highways Agency
- Private landowners and businesses
- Community groups
- Ecological and Natural History societies.
The project team encouraged Councils to reduce mowing schedules by demonstrating the clear benefits of it being cost neutral and, in some cases, a cost beneficial option. Councils were also advised to use signs to promote public understanding of the wildlife benefits on un-mowed verges. Highways Agency contractors mowed grass more regularly at junction sightlines. This maintained safety and was also an important part of gaining the public’s trust in the project.
Getting local people involved
The Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership promoted, funded and provided equipment for:
Nine wildlife survey workshops supported by ecologists. At each workshop up to 15 volunteers learnt to identify, monitor and record bird, butterfly and plant life on roadside verges
Three ‘open to all’ wildflower, seed and bulb planting days enhancing an amazing 13,000m2 of roadside verges for biodiversity.
David Thompson volunteered at the planting days and is effusive about the experience of working alongside ecologists:
‘The amount of information and practical skills I had learnt over the three days was absolutely invaluable, I recommend anyone who would like to get into this kind of volunteer work to do it, you never stop learning, meeting new people and overall it elevates wellbeing.’J
Verging on social
Ecologist Katie Watson used Twitter to showcase the results of On the Verge: posting a stunning photograph of orchids on a Rotherham verge. This picture alone was retweeted 193 times and liked 757 times. Impressed by the flourishing wildflowers, tweeters encouraged their own councils to manage verges in such a wildlife friendly way.
“Great work @RMBCPress & @HighwaysEngland! Reduced mowing supporting biodiversity and cutting costs. Countless bee, northern marsh and common spotted orchid spikes today plus 80+ other plant species! @BSBIbotany @WildSheffield
As orchids and butterflies thrived in uncut grass, more people began to enjoy and see beauty in the verges. Mark Woods, chief ecologist (Baker Consultants):
‘When you step aside from the very important science and monitoring…at the heart of the project, is the pleasure that people can experience from seeing wildflowers. Roadside verges can be as beautiful as a formal flower bed in a park.’
Carrying on the inspiration
‘On the Verge Start Up Tool Kits’ are now enabling local community groups to continue to monitor and promote wildlife on the verges. 50 people from ecological and community groups also discovered more about ‘On the Verge’ at a conference.
Roseanna Barton, Dearne Valley Landscape Partnership Officer, feels that local communities have been astonished by the wildlife potential of the verges.
Planting volunteer, Christine Blanco said she now wants to do; ‘anything I can do to improve wildflowers. I remember when I was a child there seemed to be lots of wildflowers around…anything I can do to reintroduce them.’