Verges

Roadside verges often represent the only uncultivated areas of grassland in an intensively farmed landscape where wild meadow plants may still be found.

Elmdon vergeThese areas are the last remnants of the hay meadows that were once found across the county. Their wildlife interest lies in the great number of plant species they support. This benefits insects, butterflies, small mammals and birds, providing them with food and shelter. The verges are also important in linking otherwise isolated areas of habitats, becoming 'wildlife corridors' allowing species to move between them.

Plants such as common knapweed, greater knapweed, marjoram and field scabious are typical of this grassland.

Four very important and nationally rare plants that grow on verges are sulphur clover, crested cow-wheat, lesser calamint and cowslip.
 

Special roadside verges

In the 1970s a number of important verges within the county were designated as Special Roadside Verges. The aim was to safeguard the future of the many rare flowers that grow on these verges. Since then the number has grown and there are now over 100 sites covering more than 44 km of roadside habitat in Essex. Forty-two of these sites are within Uttlesford.

The special verges are marked with wooden posts at either end, to try to make them as visible as possible. The posts have a white plaque to warn contractors that the area within the posts is specially protected and no dumping or unauthorised management should occur.
 

Management

In May or June a one-metre-wide safety cut is carried out along the carriageway edge. The cut may be wider where sight lines or junctions require it and this must include the Special Roadside Verges.

Special Roadside Verges also receive additional cuts at other times of year to benefit particular plants. It is difficult but essential to get the management balance right and the special verges are monitored to ensure that they are reaching their full wildlife potential. The timing of the cutting is planned to maximise the opportunities for the wild flowers and grasses to flower and set seed, and at the same time meet the needs of invertebrate populations on the sites. The management prevents these grassland sites from changing into scrub or woodland.
 

Who is involved

The Special Roadside Verges project team includes Essex Wildlife Trust, Essex County Council, Essex Field Club and local museum services. Essex County Council is ultimately responsible for roadside verges. They make sure that the verges are safe for road users and that their contractors manage them correctly. They also keep current maps and fund the additional cuts on the special verges. Essex Wildlife Trust, local museum services and Essex Field Club survey and report on the ecological condition of the verges.

Farmers and landowners can provide invaluable knowledge about the history of management on a site. They can help by managing boundaries and adjacent land sensitively, and in some cases they are contracted to cut the verges to maintain their ecological condition.

 


Additional information

► If you require any further information about the Special Roadside Verges in your area contact Essex County Council on 01245 437 665, email environmental.management@essexcc.gov.uk.

► The Uttlesford Wildlife site has information about the Special Verges project, suggests verge sites to visit and has some cycle rides that go past Special Verges.

► For general information about verges and their wildlife contact Essex Wildlife Trust on 01621 862 980, email admin@essexwt.org.uk.

► For information and botanical records of Special Roadside Verges in Uttlesford contact Saffron Walden Museum on 01799 510333, email museum@uttlesford.gov.uk.

Videos