Leicestershire Urban Verge Wildlife Project

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The Leicestershire Urban Verge Biodiversity Project is a partnership initiative, led by Leicestershire County Council and supported by NatureSpot. The project gives parish councils the opportunity to take over the management of selected verges in their area in order to improve them for wildlife. Over 60 parish councils are now involved, often with several verges being managed within the parish. NatureSpot's role is to help survey new verges to find out what is already growing there and then to advise on management and to offer support to parish councils and local communities with the project.

Why change?

Grassland road verges are viewed by many as simple ‘green’ strips bordering the highway. Yet take a closer look and a fascinating ecological habitat comes into focus. Even a small, regularly mown verge can contain over 20 different wildflowers and grasses – and if allowed to grow and bloom will create an important wildlife oasis.

Britain has lost 97% of its wildflower grasslands – a major factor in the decline of many wildlife species. Road verges managed as meadows can help to reverse this trend but crucially also provide wildlife corridors around the country.

Mown grass offers little benefit to wildlife. Most plants can’t flower so there is no nectar on offer for pollinators. The baked ground is too dry and the short grass offers no cover, for most wildlife species it is like a desert and they can’t live there. In addition, regular mowing is expensive. Managing a verge as wildflower meadow not only saves money, it helps to support wildlife and provides an opportunity for local residents to have more contact with nature.

Watch Phil Sterling's inspiring talk on managing verges for wildlife, drawing on his experience of managing verges and amenity grassland for Dorset County Council.

How should a verge be managed to benefit wildlife?

By not mowing between April and August, the plants can grow and flower, providing important feeding stations for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. The taller vegetation means lots of insects and other invertebrates can now find a home in the moist and protected interior – providing vital food for hedgehogs, birds, frogs, small mammals and other creatures.

Ideally, part of the verge should be cut in August or September and the cuttings removed to prevent nutrient build-up. A third or half should be left uncut to provide a winter home for the wildlife. The areas cut/uncut can then be alternated each year. In a few circumstances, it may be appropriate to add wildflower seed or plug plants to increase species diversity.

If it isn't appropriate to leave the verge uncut all summer, consider mowing every 4-6 weeks instead, or if you have space, have different mowing frequencies for different parts. See the Plantlife guidance on How to Make a Meadow.

For a more detailed description, see the Managing Your Verge page.

What wildlife will benefit?

Surveys have revealed that some of the Leicestershire verges in the project support over 50 species of wildflowers and grasses, with an average of over 20 species. All manner of butterflies, insects and other wildlife have been spotted using the meadow verges, but these represent only a tiny fraction of the species that will benefit. Part of the fun is finding out…

The verges are being added to the national B-Lines project – a series of wildflower-rich habitat stepping stones that create ‘insect pathways’ running through our countryside and towns.

Toolkit - assessing the wildlife value of your verge

We have produced a simple toolkit that will not only give you a good indication of the current value of your verge for wildlife, but will also help you to better understand how to improve it further. You can download the toolkit for free using the link below. The Toolkit scoring sheet is an optional extra as it will help to calculate the score for you, but you can do this manually if preferred on the toolkit itself. You can also watch the recording of a presentation, explaining how the Toolkit works.

Joining the project

If you are from a parish council and are interested in joining the project, see the Joining page for more information.

All verges joining the scheme will be surveyed by NatureSpot, followed up by a report of the species found and management recommendations.

All verges are also featured as Wild Places on NatureSpot, helping to explain the project and displaying records and images of all the species recorded there. Local resients are encouraged to add records of the wildlife they have seen on the verge to add to our knowledge.

How you can help

If your parish council isn't already participating, urge them to join in!

If there is a participating verge in your parish, go have a look! Ifyou spot any wildlife on the verge, try to take a photo and submit the record to NatureSpot. Your sighting will then feature on the verge Wild Pace page and will also be added to the county record database to help with conservation and site management. If you need any help identifying what you've found, post a photo on the NatureSpot forum (NatureChat).

Some verges are being managed by the community who organise the annual cut and removal of the cuttings. Ask your parish council if this is the case in your area and offer to help.

Some people don’t understand the wildlife importance of meadow grassland and think it is ‘untidy’. You can help by championing the case for less mowing and by supporting your parish council to do more of this.

Why not manage your own garden for wildlife – be creative with your lawn and allow an area to remain unmown between April and August. You can even add your garden to the B-Lines map.

Find out more