Let wildlife flourish in verges

verges 1While some people complain that the Highways department does not mow roadside verges enough, there is a growing lobby to let the grass grow and actively manage wild growth by the sides of roads in order to encourage insect populations. Oundle is one community that is initiating a trial for a new approach to the management of roadside verges.

There is no doubt that the world’s insect population is in jeopardy, with forty percent of insect species in decline and over a third of the insect population endangered. The speed of the rate of extinction of insects is more than eight times higher than that of any other mammals, birds or reptiles. The total mass of insects has been reduced by two and a half percent a year, and some sources state they could possibly have vanished by the end of the century.

There has been a ninety-eight percent fall in ground insects over the last 30 years due to insecticides containing neonicotinoids and fipronil which damage and sterilise the soil and kill grubs, discouraging further plant growth.

Bees are at the forefront of environmental concerns about declining insect populations. In the UK, one-third of the bee population has disappeared in the last ten years.

Planting wildflowers on verges provides a habitat for bees and insects to feed off and pollinate the plants, helping the local plant population while increasing the population of the insects themselves. Insects help keeps the soil healthy, recycle materials and control pests. Without them, whole ecosystems could be drastically impacted.

The Bee Friendly Trust is one organisation that transforms neglected urban spaces to create a bee-friendly or insect-friendly habitat. They have built flower beds in many train stations along the London North Eastern Railway, including one at the Peterborough station. Found at the site of the old coffee shop, it is a cross-shaped planter with popular pollinator-friendly plants such as rosemary and lavender sourced from Tandee Nursery, in Barnwell.

Oundle Town Council is pursuing a plan to trial wildflower planting at the recreation ground on New Road. Led by Councillor Ian Clark, they will follow the Plant Life’s Management Guidelines, for advice about management of the growth cycles.

In January, Mr Clark plans to mark off around six to ten trial areas of two metres by two metres wide around the fence line of the recreation ground. In February the plots will be dug over and raked to create level seed beds. The plots will lie dormant for around six weeks while they are monitored for growth of perpetual weeds, and the seeds will be planted in March or April. The suggested seed mix has a high density of yellow rattle which Mr Clark believes is important to keep grass under control.

Phil Sewter is one resident who is keen to work with the council to promote wild verges, and has applied for free wildflower seeds for public areas from Kew Garden. Cllr Clark hopes that through this initiative, the council can encourage more volunteers to help maintain wildflower areas.

Along with the many benefits for wildlife, communities who make similar initiatives to manage wildflower verges and urban spaces say that it improves the area, and helps to also bring people together and encourage greater awareness of our natural environment.

Esme Kroese
December 5, 2019