Leicestershire Urban Verge Wildlife Project

Leicestershire County Council is working with Parish Councils and local communities to improve the management of selected road verges to increase their biodiversity value. NatureSpot is helping by carrying out wildlife surveys and by promoting the verges as featured Wild Places on its website.

Why change?

Britain has lost 97% of its wildflower grasslands – a major factor in the decline of many wildlife species. Road verges managed as meadows can not only help to reverse this trend but crucially 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.

How should a verge be managed?

Simply by not mowing between April and mid-September, 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, half the verge should be cut in September and the cuttings removed to prevent nutrient build-up. Half (or part) 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.

What wildlife will benefit?

Surveys have revealed that some verges support over 50 species of wildflowers and grasses with an average of over 20. 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 be benefitting. 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.

How you can help

If you 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.

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.

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

  • Look up the verge on NatureSpot! (use the Wild Place drop-down menu on the home page)
  • Contact Roseanna Burton (roseanna.burton@leics.gov.uk) for more details about the project and to propose new verges to add to the network next year.
  • Learn to identify common Leicestershire wildlife species using our series of free ID guides – all available on www.naturespot.org.uk/IDguides
  • Free wildlife ID training events are on offer – details from roseanna.burton@leics.gov.uk

Frequently Asked Questions

Can we chose any verge in the Parish?

Your chosen verge must be:-

  1. LCC highway owned land.
  2. Minimum 2m width (front to rear)
  3. Within the 30/40mph limit.
  4. Not obstruct any sight lines (i.e. not on a junction or blind bend)
  5. Preferably not shaded by large trees

Do we sow with wildflower seeds?

It is generally best to work with nature and manage the verge as it is. Surveys have shown that most verges are surprisingly rich in species and these just need the chance the grow and flower. It is expensive and time-consuming to sow with seeds and not guaranteed to work in the long term. 'Chocolate box' wildflower meadows are unlikely to be sustainable on the nutrient-rich soils that most verges have, but over time most meadow grasslands that are managed correctly will become more species diverse. Remember that for most wildlife, it is the taller vegetation that is important, not how colourful it is.

Where would we get wildflower seeds from?

We recommend sowing with EM2 – General Purpose Meadow mixture, from Emorsgate Seeds. (4 grams per square metre) -   £1.50/m2

This mix is suitable for most soil types and contains native perennial wildflower and grass species that should help form a long-term sustainable meadow. The inclusion of Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthis minor) will help prevent vigorous grasses from taking over as it is a grass parasite.

Perennials may not fully flower in the first year so if you want see more of an initial impact then consider adding some cornfield annuals. We recommend EC1 – STANDARD CORNFIELD MIXTURE from Emorsgate. You don't need a large quantity, just 1 gram per square meter, added to the perennial mix will bring considerable colour and useful nectar sources for pollinators in the first year. Note that very few, if any, of the annuals will appear in year 2 but by then the perennials should be blooming!

Do not be tempted to sow just annuals! Whilst they can be colourful for a short period in the first year these plants will not generally re-appear in future years unless you start all over again each year - a very expensive option!

Also be very wary of seed sold as 'Butterfly and Pollinator' mixes. These often contain non-natives, many annuals and research has shown that they are often not as attractive to most insects as native wildflowers.

How should we prepare the ground

If there is already a reasonable diversity of wildflowers and grasses then you do not need to add seed - the changed mowing regime will be sufficient to create a wildlife-rich wildflower meadow. If the existing diversity is low then you might consider adding additional species by sowing seed (see the recommendation above). You should not dig up the verge nor spray the existing plants. Instead strim/cut the vegetation as low as possible in September, rake away the cuttings and vigorously rake (scarify) the ground to expose some bare soil before sowing. This gives the seed the opportunity to get established whilst retaining the existing mix of species already present.

Does the Parish Council have to pay for the grass cutting?

At the end of the Summer (August/September) a cut of the verge is required and the clippings need to be removed within 7 days. The cost of arranging this cut and removal of cuttings does fall to the Parish Council – this cannot be arranged by LCC.

Why can’t the County Council cut the verge at the end of Summer?

Participating verges are taken out of the mowing schedule and to avoid confusion the contractors are instructed not to cut the verge at all. Also, as the clippings need removing, the Parishes will have more control over it being done within the timescale if they organise the cut themselves.

Should the Parish Council consult with residents and promote the scheme?

Yes! The fastest form of communication these days is social media. You are encouraged to publish your intentions for the verge on your Parish website or Facebook groups so residents in the village are aware of what you are trying to achieve. As each verge will be featured on its own 'Wild Place' page on the NatureSpot website you can also use this to explain/promote the project. Through NatureSpot you can also encourage local residents to get involved by submitting records of their own wildlife observations on the verge. The verge Wild Places can be found on the dropdown menu on the home page.

You can also attach a laminated sign in the vicinity of the verge to inform local people of the PC’s plans and intentions for the verge.

What happens if people don’t support it or complain about the way it looks?

Any complaints need to be dealt with by the Parish Council but hopefully early promotion will fend off any complaints. Note that NatureSpot and the County Council can provide facts to go into news articles and share your efforts on social media. Whilst some may perceive mown grass as being 'tidy' it is an effective desert for wildlife. We all have a responsibility to manage grasslands more creatively if we are are to address the current biodiversity crisis.

What if it doesn’t ‘take off’ and we don’t have enough interest in the project?

You can contact the County Council to advise them that you no longer want to take part in the scheme. They will instruct their contractors to cut it next time they are in the area.  Please note that early notice of this may be helpful so that others, such as wildlife groups, could get involved with support.

How will the County Council make sure the verge doesn’t get cut by their grass cutting gangs?

Every effort will be made to make sure County Council operatives are aware of the presence of the wildflower verge.  They will highlight the areas on maps and the presence of local signs and markers should be a helpful indication.