The verges around Grantham in 2018 are markedly different to previous years – this is a result of the council’s decision to reduce amenity cutting to twice a year, down from the previous seven cuts per year. The result of this cost-saving exercise is that the verges throughout the town are more alive with flowers and insects than they have been in years and I for one am delighted with the effect!
At a time when the many scientists, ecologists and wildlife experts are sounding alarm bells over the catastrophic declines in many of our native species, and the dire threat of our falling pollinator numbers, the unintended consequence of cutting the cutting is the creation of wildflower corridors and habitat which lace their way through the town.
Whilst I am wholeheartedly in favour of the new regime, I’ve seen comments from a people complaining about the effect – these comments generally fall into three categories:
The first is safety – and I agree that where the height of the vegetation represents an issue for visibility, especially around schools, then there is no question that this needs to be addressed. But these spots are the exceptions, not the rules, and many areas of town can happily support longer verges with no risk to passers by or vehicle users.
The second is the tidiness and neatness – there is an aesthetic which says that an unmowed verge is a sign that the town isn’t being looked after. This too is understandable, but it is also very cultural and very changeable – the concept of Obsessive Tidiness Disorder is very well addressed in this blog post. We have become so accustomed to nature being managed and manicured on a wholesale basis that this is the normal, and deviation from it is considered a drop in standards. But we have come a long way in the last century to a place where a council is expected to expend vast amounts of money to maintain an aesthetic which is so entirely detrimental to the huge host of species which would otherwise call it home. I would challenge anybody to read this piece about the death of a Cornish hedgerow in an age of mass mechanised maintenance and not feel horrified at what we have lost.
The aesthetic which likes a well-managed verge is now the norm, but councils around the country are adopting more wildlife-friendly cutting regimes and if these become more widespread, then expectations will shift and this perception will soon die away. Flowers provide food for insects which in turn provides food for swifts and swallows which are continuing to decline in numbers and will soon be an absent sound from our summer if steps are not taken to address this. It would be great to see the council really embrace the positives of the change to grass cutting regimes rather than simply defending it as an unfortunate necessity – be bold and be ahead of the curve! We would have support and help from the likes of Plantlife and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust – both of whom understand the importance of verges as habitat and have designed campaigns to change perceptions and behaviours.
The third reason people object seems to be the species which appear – people have commented that it would be OK ‘if they were nice wildflowers’. The plethora of garden flowers which we’re used to, and to some extent the highly vibrant but unnatural annual mixes which some councils sow, are affecting expectations of what our native flora look like. As well as the showy orchids and exuberant vetches are smaller, more subtle species but they are equally beautiful if you take the time to look. The verges are also full of surprises – Ancaster has a population of one of the rarest orchids in the country on its road verges and who knows what might pop up when given a chance. Even the most seemingly mundane flowers can surprise you – some of the yellow dandelion-like flower heads around town are indeed the familiar dandelions, but there are also closely related hawkbits, hawkweeds and nipplewort which you may never even have noticed.
On a lunchtime walk today I counted eighteen species of wildflower in just a short stretch and I am sure there are many more besides. Many of these are not rarities, but they are bright and colourful and provide life for so many bees, butterflies and hoverflies. A few are pictured in this post – see which ones you can spot on your next walk around town!
I feel that it is really important to stress that the spoil is taken off. This increases diversity by lowering nutrient levels enabling wild flowers to thrive. That Councils are learning to cut verges less is real progress, however, greater benefits and more pleasing results are obtained as above. I am aware that Lincs Wildlife Trust are conducting experiments with a machine that collects the cuttings but do you know what the plan is with regard to the Council in your area? I live in the Lincolnshire Wolds(AONB) where almost all verges are almost entirely degraded and dominated by rank grasses and truely lacking in diversity. I believe that they can be brought back but it will require the removal of cuttings not merely less frequent cutting.
What a beautiful display fellow ecologist and well done putting it together. Puts us Northern Wold dwellers to shame.
absolutely – there’s far more which could be done easily and effectively for free through better timing etc. but even a reduction in frequency is enough to give an opportunity for a few wildflowers to bloom! Would be great to see if the biomass scheme works as that could be a great way to reduce nutrient status and get some more diversity into the verges!
Having been in and.out of hospitals again over the past year, I seem to have missed many of your wonderful blogs. Always so fascinating and bursting with observations that most of us would fail to note. I love reading and being reminded of what to look for and cherish. Though I have paid a visit recently to our nearby Kew Gardens with Antonia and James.
Love and blessings to you and Mike and all your family,
Anthea. (de Barton-Watson)
Hi Anthea – I think you might have got your blogs mixed – I’m not Steffie I’m afraid!
Great blog post. I fully agree with your sentiments here and hope as you do that opinions will shift on the tidiness aesthetic.
Next week, 20th June, SKDC Councillors will be discussing the future of the Grounds Maintenance contractual arrangements. I see this as an opportunity to promote biodiversity and wildlife-friendly initiatives. The meeting of the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee starts with comments from members of the public. It would be great to see you there! http://moderngov.southkesteven.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=3659&x=1
Next Wednesday, 20th June, SKDC Councillors will be discussing the future of grounds maintenance across the district. I see this as an opportunity to promote biodiversity and wildlife initiatives. The Environment Overview and Scrutiny meeting begins with comments from the public. It would be great to see you there!
I’ll be out of town doing some surveys down south that day unfortunately – any way to lodge comments without being in attendance?
You could inform the Chairman, or the Officers or me. Give me a ring 07799 077090 if you want more info. It won’t be the last opportunity.
Enjoying your posts. Thanks for the great photos and stories!