Don’t give road f low­ers the chop

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Pine­hurst II, Pine­hurst Road, Farn­borouwgh Busi­ness Park, Farn­bor­ough, Hamp­shire GU14 7BF Tele­phone 01252 555072 www.coun­trylife.co.uk

Is any­thing love­lier than the Bri­tish coun­try­side in spring? Ev­ery­thing’s on the move, en­er­gised by warm­ing, length­en­ing days. Leaves ex­pand lux­u­ri­antly be­fore our eyes; blos­soms (early this year) shower con­fetti like be­nign snow­storms and bird­song fills the air. Even the daily com­mute is joy­ous as road verges be­come dap­pled with cowslips, cam­pi­ons and froths of Queen Anne’s lace. Oh, but what’s that, up ahead, slow­ing traf­fic? Or­ange cones have re­duced the car­riage­way to sin­gle file, en­abling men to work safely on a job that is in­creas­ingly be­ing called into ques­tion: the un­timely mowing of verges.

Ru­ral road verges have be­come a vi­tal refuge for plants that no longer thrive on farm­land, with more than 700 species of wild­flower known to grow on them some­where in the UK—45% of our en­tire flora. This vast pal­ette al­lows re­mark­able sea­sonal pic­tures to be painted along­side the tar­mac, with plants com­ing to­gether in myr­iad com­bi­na­tions that en­hance lo­cal char­ac­ter and iden­tity.

With more than 97% of the na­tion’s an­cient wild­flower mead­ows hav­ing dis­ap­peared since the 1930s, verges are also a cru­cial refuge for bees, but­ter­flies, birds and other crea­tures; a good verge will sup­ply a di­verse source of nec­tar and pollen from the first celandines in Fe­bru­ary to the last Devil’s-bit scabi­ous in septem­ber. Lo­tus cor­nic­u­la­tus alone, bet­ter known as bird’sfoot tre­foil or ba­con-and-eggs, is a food plant for more than 130 species of in­ver­te­brate.

The sur­vival of th­ese plants mat­ters and not only for aes­thetic and eco­log­i­cal rea­sons; for the 23 mil­lion peo­ple com­mut­ing to work by road, verges can be their only daily con­tact with Na­ture. The pro­ces­sion of colour through the year keeps us in touch, even if sub­lim­i­nally, with the chang­ing sea­sons and pro­vides us with a sense of place: pyra­mi­dal or­chids on the south­ern chalk downs, wood cranes­bill in the York­shire Dales, melan­choly this­tle in scot­land.

Plantlife, the char­ity con­cerned with preser­va­tion of the na­tion’s wild­flow­ers and their habi­tats, is to be com­mended for launch­ing a timely set of guide­lines for coun­cils and landown­ers (Town & Coun­try, page 70). Al­though it recog­nises that safety is a pri­or­ity and that sight-lines around junc­tions must be cut reg­u­larly, its guid­ance is ex­em­plary. There are also fi­nan­cial gains to be made—dorset County Coun­cil, which adopted a new strat­egy for verges in 2014, es­ti­mates it has saved £100,000 through, among other things, more strate­gic mowing. The flora of road mar­gins must no longer be marginalised.

‘Th­ese plants are a daily con­tact with Na­ture for 23 mil­lion com­muters

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