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Reduced mowing could make road verges a haven for nature, says study

PUBLISHED: 08:39 14 July 2020 | UPDATED: 11:26 14 July 2020

Better management of road verges could dramatically improve habitats for pollinating insects, according to a new study involving the UEA and conservation charity Buglife. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Better management of road verges could dramatically improve habitats for pollinating insects, according to a new study involving the UEA and conservation charity Buglife. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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Better management of road verges could boost important wildlife such as pollinating insects, according to new research involving the University of East Anglia.

Uncut verges and hedgerows allowing nature to take over along country roads and lanes. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYUncut verges and hedgerows allowing nature to take over along country roads and lanes. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hoverflies benefit from the plants and flowers in road verges, which form a network of “corridors” that provide food and shelter, says the report.

Scientists from the UEA and Cambridge collaborated with the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and conservation charity Buglife on the research, which was led by the University of Exeter.

The team reviewed more than 140 studies and found that roadsides can be dramatically improved for pollinators by measures such as creating flower-rich verges, reducing mowing and limiting light pollution from street lighting.

PhD student Claire Wallace, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said since the review was written verges have undergone quite a transition due to the Covid-19 lockdown – proving their potential to act as a havens for pollinators

Uncut verges and hedgerows allowing nature to take over along country roads and lanes. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYUncut verges and hedgerows allowing nature to take over along country roads and lanes. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“There were lots of reports of road verges not being mown because councils and contractors weren’t operating as normal,” she said.

“This gave us a brief glimpse of the benefits of wilder verges for nature, with plants such as orchids popping up all over the place where they hadn’t been seen before.”

While there are downsides of living by the road, including exposure to pollution and the risk of being hit by vehicles, the researchers found that the benefits for insects far outweigh the costs.

Andrew Whitehouse, from Buglife, said: “Buglife’s ‘B-Lines’ initiative has identified the lack of connected wildflower-rich habitats as a major contributor to the decline in our pollinating insects.

“This new research shows the potential that road verges have to help to reverse insect declines.

“By making small changes to the management of our road verge network, local authorities and others involved in road verge management can make a significant difference to support nature’s recovery.”

In May, campaigners from the Norfolk Wildlife Trust urged Norfolk County Council to cut back on how often they trim the region’s roadside verges, which are teeming with diverse wildflowers and fauna.

The council said cutting verges was vital to maintain visibility and road safety – but the authority is keen to balance safety needs with supporting nature, including working with Norfolk Wildlife Trust to maintain the county’s 112 “roadside nature reserves”, which are cut at the end of the summer when the plants have had a chance to flower and seed.

• The study named “Enhancing road verges to aid pollinator conservation: a review” is published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation.


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