Wildflowers along our verges

Can planting wildflowers along our verges really improve and enhance biodiversity.

Cllr L PepperLocal councils and institutions are transforming road verges into rivers of flowers. But we need to make sure that the right flower mix is planted. Non-native species support far fewer invertebrates than natural, native verges and most of the sown plants are arable weeds, which need to fall on bare soil in order to establish.
 

Re-wilding verges

Since the 1930s, our traditional wildflower meadows have declined by 97 per cent. Yet, there is a hidden resource in the country's verges. The botanical conservation charity Plantlife estimates that the 500,000km of rural road verge in the UK is equivalent in area to roughly half the remaining flower-rich grassland and meadow in the country.

It points out that these ubiquitous strips of habitat could be important refuges for a huge range of familiar and rare native plants and the diverse animal communities they support, including beleaguered butterflies and vital pollinators, not to mention bats and birds.
 

Sown versus natural verges

The charity Plantlife is encouraging councils to sow the right types of flowers. Whilst a general mix may be good for a few general pollinators, they support far fewer invertebrates than natural, native verges. And introducing non-natives is not a good idea.

Flowers for attracting butterflies. © Plantlife

Flowers for attracting butterflies. © Plantlife

Secondly, most of the sown plants are arable weeds, which need to fall on bare soil in order to establish. So, the process of creating the display involves the wholesale destruction of existing vegetation, usually by spraying with a broad-spectrum herbicide, such as glyphosate.

Natural verges, if managed sensitively, can be extraordinarily diverse and ecologically complex, and support specialist plants adapted to local conditions. However, they are less predictable, less showy, may take a few years to develop, may have gaps in flowering and suffer from the perception that they are untidy. 

There are some guidelines on how to save wildflowers on road verges on the Plantlife website.

Flowers for attracting butterflies. © Plantlife

Flowers for attracting butterflies. © Plantlife
 

Make your own mini meadow

The BBC Wildlife Magazine team have put together some tips on how you can create a wildflower haven in your garden to help important pollinators.

 

Cllr Louise Pepper

Portfolio holder for Environment and Green Issues and Equalities