This Cut is a Deep One

A guest post by Mark Averyan environmental commentator who writes a daily blog about UK environmental issues and their politics. He worked for the RSPB for 25 years, with nearly 13 of those as its Conservation Director. His latest book, Fighting for Birds – 25 years in nature conservation, will be published in August.

This month Plantlife launch a campaign to stop councils destroying the wild flowers of roadside verges through inappropriate cutting.  The wild plant charity says that they have been inundated by complaints from the public about verges being cut this year just as the flowers appear – giving them no chance to set seed.

Plantlife Chief Executive, Victoria Chester says “What’s not to like about a road verge full of wild flowers?  Beautiful, culturally significant, colouring our towns and countryside alike and heralding the changing seasons… And yet, they are under attack: flowers are routinely being mown down in full bloom, or sprayed off with poisons as ‘weeds’ and smothered with cuttings.  Over time, only nettles and coarse grasses can survive this onslaught.  As the flowers disappear, so does the verge’s value for wildlife.  And welose something too; knots of primroses and violets in early spring, the patriotic red, white and blue of campion, stitchwort and bluebells, or the midsummer golds and purples of orchids, columbine or lady’s bedstraw.  These flowers, with us since the last ice age, are on the edge – it’s time to cherish them.”

Plantlife have discovered that more than 75% of the councils contacted cut their verges multiple times over the spring and summer, with not one of them collecting cuttings as part of their routine management.  Councils are mowing verges in their care too early, too often and leaving the cuttings to lie. This means that flowers are not being able to set seed and they are swamped with the mowed material being dumped on the verges – which exacerbates the problem through acting as a fertiliser.

If this continues, the fear is that the flower-rich verges which brighten our countryside will turn into banks of nettles, docks and coarse grasses.

The justification for cutting verges is road safety which means that councils are scared stiff not to cut, or to cut less frequently, in case a road accident happens.

This is despite the fact that cutting verges is an expensive operation, costing many councils hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.  At a time of austerity one might have thought that looking to find sensible safe ways to reduce the cost of this activity would be just the sort of thing that a cash-strapped council ought to be doing to make our money stretch a little further.

It makes sense, although I bet some of even this activity is questionable, to cut verges at junctions and corners to improve visibility but many verges are routinely scalped along straight bits of road with perfect visibility – it looks more like an unthinking war on plants than a sensible accident-lessening management regime.

And I recall that when I blogged about kek, cow parsley or Queen Anne’s lace a little while ago one of the comments then was about the destruction of flowers on roadside verges.

It seems to me that Plantlife has caught the mood and the moment with this campaign. Do you have any photographs of wrecked verges? Do you have thoughts on the way forward?  Let me know please.

Please support Plantlife’s campaign.

Photo by crabchick, via Flickr 

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