Monday, 27 May 2013

Flowers on the Edge

Posted by Dr Trevor Dines

Plantlife launched our campaign ‘Flowers on the Edge’ yesterday morning on BBC Breakfast… and the response has been terrific. But one in particular interested me – it was from Mike Jones at the Local Government Association quoted on the BBC website.

"However, councils must strike the right balance between road safety and wildlife," he said.

We agree, and many do already.

"Keeping road verges well maintained ensures that motorists have a good line of sight and allows pedestrians to walk more safely alongside busy roads.”

Yep, agree again.

"It also prevents weeds and foreign species from spreading into private gardens."

I wonder what Mr Jones thinks of when he says weeds?  Cheerful dandelions – wide open, mini sunshines; round, yellow plates of food for pollinators? OK, we know dandelions aren’t popular with everyone – let’s try again.  How about ox-eye daisies?  Or bright blue speedwell (the name just shows how long it has been on our waysides) or glossy buttercups, delicate ladies’-smock, red and white campions or the froth of cow parsley?  Violets, primroses and cowslips?  Are these weeds or wild flowers?

BUT, if we carry on repeatedly mowing our road verges and leaving the cuttings then yes, you will lose these wild flowers and end up with an abundance of coarse grasses – the equivalent of green concrete to wildlife.

The second part of the point is also interesting – mowing verges prevents foreign species from spreading into private gardens.  Most gardens are full of foreign species – even plants we think of as integral to the classic cottage garden, such as lavender.  The flip of that is that most garden centres are full of what are really wild flowers - foxgloves, hellebores or fritillaries for example.  And of course not forgetting the classic box bush, whiich is under threat in the wider countryside - its natural home.  Here’s another stat – more than 60% of invasive plant species causing problems in the countryside originate from gardens…

But coming back to road verges.  Safety is one thing.  The seemingly wanton destruction of a vital and beautiful part of our natural heritage is another.  With 97% of meadows gone, do we really want to erode the ribbons of what’s left, cut, by cut?  Ironic when you think of the current vogue for wild flower meadows in our gardens.  Let’s join the dots… A well managed, flower-rich road verge is the linear equivalent of a wild flower meadow.  And it’s just there by the roadside for us all to enjoy…

Britain’s countryside.
Save it with flowers.


  1. I've been battling Sutton Council over this since March. My concern is that asking councils to leave well alone is like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas - the less they do, the less reason they have to exist.

    1. The dreaded verge mowing operations have begun in Llanelian (near Colwyn Bay) - on the 28 May! So far it is on what we call the Llanrwst Road (B5113) - actually a fairly wide road and probably the one least in need of it. A single swathe has been cut in most cases (but this is still adds up to a significant area) and the 'grass' being mowed is (or was) full of flowers, especially bluebells and greater stitchwort which in combination are a superb sight. Some has survived of course, especially close to the hedge and on steep banks, but I do seriously doubt that the work done has been of any benefit whatever - certainly not in terms of traffic sight-lines (the plants are not tall enough for that). All this work represents a waste of money but, worse than that, it destroys something of value - a species rich and often very beautiful wildlife habitat. One of the ironies is that the plants that really do need to be controlled - though probably in August rather than May - are climbing shrubs like wild roses and brambles which flop over the road and tend to be too whippy for a flail to cut them cleanly. A man with a sickle would have done a good job, but then he is an extinct species.

      David Evans (Friend of Treborth BG)

  2. Many of the verges are now over enriched by decades of cut and drop management which is self perpetuating as the more you cut the more you have to! Cut less, remove the cuttings, (these could be composted or sent to an A.D. plant to use as sustainable fuel!)The reduction of nutrients in the soil over the years will reduce the hight of verge growth as the taller hungry plants, giveway to a more diverse comunity of wildflowers. Shorter verges = less cutting = big saving in Council Tax payer funds!!

  3. Complaining about verge cutting to West Sussex council is like banging your head against a brick wall. The contractors are cutting several times a year. It has nothing to do with motorists visibility. It is about councils keeping up their funding. It costs us £2 a head which galls me to think we are paying for the destruction of a beautiful and much needed habitat for insects and wildlife, not to mention the pollution involved. Even in the odd spot where they leave a few wild flowers, they still mow round them.