Roadside verges – something to cherish
Because 97% of our wildflower meadows have disappeared since the 1930s, roadside verges provide an important food source for insects, birds and bats. Buglife have reviewed the evidence on the importance of verges for pollinating insects and found that as well as a food source they provide shelter, nesting and hibernation sites.
Here in Stinchcombe
Have you noticed how rich in wildflowers Stinchcombe’s outlying roadside verges are? In mid-July we found about seventy species on Echo Lane, including orchids (see photo above). Seventy sounds a lot but, according to Plantlife over 700 species grow on British verges.
We’re also lucky to have a few miles of different types of verge; lowland grassy, wooded, urban and probably a bit of damp verge too.
Trouble in Paradise?
Verges are vulnerable to poor management, progressively losing their wildflower diversity and their value to wildlife. The main problem is cutting them too early before the summer-flowering plants have set seed. Failing to remove the clippings makes things worse because they release nutrients that are bad for most wildflowers. Early flowering plants e.g. garlic mustard (see below) and ones that tolerate fertile soil and don’t rely on setting seed to spread e.g. cow parsley do well but at the expense of other species.
It was Jess who first suggested that we should do more to look after our verges and the invertebrates that rely on them. Trudy and Kath have been doing some surveys to find out what wildflower species we currently have.
How to increase wildflower diversity
Sowing a generic seed mix for a quick explosion of colour that has mostly disappeared by the following year is definitely not a good idea! The Good Verge Guide strongly recommends establishing an appropriate mix of perennial native flowers. Although this approach is slower and more effortful, once in place it helps a wide range of wildlife for years to come. It is also cheaper in the long run because the new plants should be self-sustaining.
What has been done so far
We have collected small amounts of seed locally, including yellow rattle, foxgloves, ox-eye daisies, field scabious, musk mallow, red campion and white campion. Trudy, the green-fingered one, is already nurturing lots of little plants. Photo of Trudy’s ox-eye daisy seedlings
Proposed next steps
We would like to do some limited planting in three areas. The aim is a gentle build on each years’ successes (or failures) culminating in self-seeding, self-sustaining verges.
Wick Lane in front of the churchyard wall – the objective this autumn is to sow patches of yellow rattle, with red poppies for additional colour. Yellow rattle is known as nature’s own lawnmower because it can reduce grass growth by up to 60%, making it easier for other wildflowers to grow.
Less grass and less frequent mowing is also good news for Russell Legg and his team. And don’t worry, we’ll work around the snowdrops and daffodils that already give such a lovely display each year. As the yellow rattle does its work we will introduce other wildflowers to increase the diversity and interest.
The Avenue – the introduction of foxgloves and ox-eye daisies (see below) between the trees this autumn, followed by a couple of other shade-tolerant plants next year.
Clingre end of Oldhill Lane – we plan to introduce white campion initially in this sunny area.
Let us know what you think
We have already discussed these ideas with the Parish Council, and with Rev Fiona in the case of the Wick Lane plot. It would be helpful to know what residents think via the comments facility or by contacting Kath or Trudy directly. Admittedly, there are valid concerns about wildflower areas looking untidy at times, overhanging pavements or obstructing drivers’ or pedestrians’ view of the road. We believe that these can be addressed to a large degree and are happy to discuss how this might be achieved.
Would you like to get involved?
There is plenty of scope to get involved e.g.
- joining in with next year’s wildflower survey
- donating small native wildflower plants grown using your own seed (no garden hybrids or foreign imports please, however pretty they look in the garden)
- giving us the benefit of your expertise if you have a successful wildflower area
- helping to collect and dispose of clippings after mowing
- committing to mowing later and less frequently if you maintain a stretch of verge