Reduced mowing of road verges could see wildflowers bloom

Oxeye daisies, harebells and other wildflowers could have their best summer for years if councils reduce roadside verge mowing, experts have said.

The UK’s more than 310,000 miles of rural road verges have become a refuge for wildflowers squeezed out of the wider countryside, but often fall victim to frequent mowing which does not let them bloom and set seed.

However, some councils are now reducing the mowing of roadside verges in line with advice from wildlife experts at Plantlife, providing a boost not just for wildflowers but for a wide array of insects, birds and mammals they support.

White campion is one of the increasingly rare plants which could benefit from less mowing (Peter Fleming)
White campion is one of the increasingly rare plants which could benefit from less mowing (Peter Fleming/PA)

With coronavirus putting pressure on council services and causing staff shortages, non-essential activities such as spring mowing could fall by the wayside.

The shift away from typically mowing the verges of rural roads, A-roads and motorways four times a year could also save large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions from the tractor mowers, Plantlife argues.

Reducing mowing to the “twice is nice” recommendations from the wildlife charity, cutting verges twice in late summer and autumn or once in autumn and once in early spring, could save 22,754 tonnes of carbon dioxide, it says.

Early purple orchid on road verge in Conwy north Wales (Trevor Dines/Plantlife/PA)
Early purple orchid on road verge in Conwy north Wales (Trevor Dines/Plantlife/PA)

Plantlife acknowledges the need for mowing in areas where it is needed for safety reasons, such as at junctions, and also says a one-metre mown strip immediately alongside the carriageway can help lower-growing plants.

But often the reason councils mow so much is because they believe their residents want the countryside to look neat and tidy, an attitude that is beginning to change, the charity’s Dr Trevor Dines said.

Local authorities which have taken the decision to mow less and later are now getting more feedback from residents welcoming roadside blooms than complaints about messiness, he said.

SuPlantlife is highlighting the fortunes of 10 flowers including Betony on road verges (Trevor Dines/Plantlife/PA)
SuPlantlife is highlighting the fortunes of 10 flowers including Betony on road verges (Trevor Dines/Plantlife/PA)

While councils were likely to carry on cutting the grass around junctions for safety reasons, this year with the pandemic, “on the rest of the verges this is an opportunity to see a little bit of nature return”, he said.

“An unintended but understandable consequence of lockdown may be reduced mowing that has the potential to benefit wild plants and the bees, butterflies, birds, bats and bugs that depend on them for survival.”

Plantlife is highlighting 10 summer flowering plants that are increasingly rare and seeking refuge in roadside verges through the countryside.

Field Scabious can also thrive on road verges (Trevor Dines/Plantlife/PA)
Field Scabious can also thrive on road verges (Trevor Dines/Plantlife/PA)

They are oxeye daisy, yellow rattle, wild carrot, meadow crane’s-bill, greater knapweed, white campion, burnet-saxifrage, betony, harebell and field scabious.

The plants could see their best summer in years with fewer cuts, Plantlife suggests.

Kate Petty, road verge campaign manager, Plantlife, said: “Verges are the last remaining habitats for some incredibly rare flowers like wood calamint and we must redouble our efforts to save and protect these under-appreciated, yet abundant, strips.”

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