Hampshire County Council has responded to Plantlife’s ‘Alan Challenge’ asking councils to sign up to three guidelines while managing out of town road verges.
Good visibility is vital for motorists and other road verges which is why verges are trimmed to maintain clear lines of sight. However, this work is balanced with the needs and cycles of plant and wildlife habitats.
Councillor Seán Woodward, Executive Member for Economy, Transport and Environment at Hampshire County Council, said: “I’m pleased to say that the way we manage verges in Hampshire, carefully balancing the needs of both wildlife and road users, meets, or in some cases exceeds, most of Alan’s criteria.”
“Plantlife has asked councils to cut the full width of the verge once a year, no earlier than the end of August and no later that the end of March. In Hampshire, the full rural verge width is actually cut just every three years to allow for the natural ecosystem as far as possible. When it is cut in the three year cycle, this is done after the end of August.”
“The second request is to refrain from cutting verges between April and August except to maintain sight lines or for other road safety purposes. Hampshire County Council does, indeed, cut verges at this time, specifically and only for these reasons. The width cut is just one metre.”
“The third request is to gather and remove cuttings wherever possible, and this is where we will have to agree to differ. As we cut the full width of the verge only every three years, we do not think the cuttings are detrimental to wildlife.”
“On balance, because of the significant cost of removal and transport of cuttings from the 2,000 miles of rural verges we look after, together with the increased traffic of heavy vehicles through Hampshire’s rural villages this would entail, we leave cuttings to naturally compost where they are.”
Highways teams use information from the Hampshire Biodiversity Information Centre to inform verge maintenance policies.
Specialist rare plants are earmarked for particular mowing regimes that avoid their main flowering season. For example several verges around Four Marks support the rare Violet helleborine which flowers late and should therefore not be cut until late October.
In central Hampshire, particularly between Winchester and Basingstoke, Dark Mullein grows in some verges. This is the food plant for the rare Striped Lychnis moth – only found in southern central England. These verges receive an April cut only as the caterpillars feed on the plant until September.
The Hampshire Biodiversity Information Centre (HBIC) monitor these special road verges on a rolling programme to ensure their interest is maintained. Some verges are deselected if rare flowers or species no longer inhabit them and new verges are selected if they are found to support rare species or habitats which were previously not know about. HBIC also actively screens all proposed road works on a weekly basis to alert the authorities or utility companies to minimise important verges being damaged from digging or storage of machinery/materials.