New Road Verge Policy
Roadside verges have become increasingly important on a local, national and international setting people are becoming aware of their importance as havens for wildlife, plants and pollinators. Unlike many other grassland habitats, the road verges have been left primarily untouched by fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides that can have detrimental effects on our wild species.
There are over 700 species of plant that have been recorded in Britain on road verges (45% of all our flora species). This includes some very rare examples, such as the Bithynian vetch (Vicia bithynica) which is listed as a Denbighshire Local Biodiversity Action Plan priority species and as vulnerable on the UK International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. By managing our verges correctly we enable a range of wildlife to thrive; from invertebrates to reptiles, amphibians, birds and small mammals.
Since 1930 the UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows while England and Wales have less than 1% of the pre-war total area of unimproved lowland meadow remaining. This catastrophic loss of habitat has had massive detrimental effects on insect and plant populations across the UK. For instance, numbers of invertebrate species such as butterfly, moth and ground beetle are showing a decline of between 65 – 70% over recent decades, with many more species now highly threatened.
A report titled ‘The State of Britain’s Butterflies, 2015’ noted that 76% of the UK’s resident and regular migrant butterfly species had declined in either abundance or occurrence (or both) over the past four decades (Fox et al., 2015). While a study by Goulson et al. in 2008, noted that three of the 25 bumblebee species in the UK had become extinct with another eight species experiencing drastic population shrinkages.
Sadly, the outlook for bees is no better. The European Red List of Bees, indicated that a lack of information has severely limited establishing the status of bee species populations, with 79% of the species having unknown population trends. Unfortunately there is currently no official data for trends in wild bee populations for Wales, so populations may be heading towards extinction faster than we think.
The Council’s new verge policy
We are looking to reverse the decline in pollinators and other invertebrate species through the creation of wildflower rich habitats along our road verge network by implementing its new road verge policy.
For the first time, our Corporate Plan has a section on the environment which has included bees as a priority species within the county. With this in mind, the council’s new road verge policy will attempt to increase the overall available habitat and food sources for bees and other pollinators while maintaining the safety of its road users.
The new policy has been developed in conjunction with the North Wales Wildlife Trust, the Bodfari Woodland Skills Centre and a local group (Life on the Verge), with whom the council has worked with for over 10 years.
The verge policy focuses on roads outside the 30-40mph limit and non-principal roads. These roads will be cut once a year after the 1st August, in what will be known as a biodiversity cut. This will also include the removal of the cuttings (where appropriate) which will reduce the nutrients re-entering the soil and limit the growth of brambles, nettles and other more rapidly growing nutrient-loving species in favour of the more slow growing wildflower species.
This cut will be done on roughly 78% of the total road verge network in the county and is made up of over 1,800km of potential wildflower habitat. The single biodiversity cut allows enough time for plants to flower and seed while ensuring a prolonged period of feeding for pollinators and other insects who are then also able to lay their eggs in safer habitats.
A safety splay of 1m wide will still be in place (where appropriate) to ensure the safety of Denbighshire’s road users while also enhancing and developing our road verges as wildlife rich corridors.
We ask all Denbighshire residents to please get behind this policy and help us increase our counties biodiversity by not cutting road verges, even if they do look a little untidy. Wildflower meadows will look better and better over time as they establish themselves, so we can all look forward to having wonderful wildlife and pollinator friendly road verges throughout our beautiful county as Denbighshire aims to become the most ‘Bee Friendly’ county in Wales!