Don’t give road f lowers the chop
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