The recent hot weather has turned our normally green landscapes into something resembling a brown desert. When we contemplate our dried up gardens it is easy to think that nature is being destroyed by the heat, but it is of course very resilient. Indeed our wild flowers, shrubs and trees are better able to cope with the harsh conditions than many garden plants. In any case human activities are a greater threat to wild flowers than the weather.
Once abundant in meadows, woodlands and wetlands they are now much more restricted in the countryside. Changes to farming practices, land taken for development, and pollution, have all taken their toll. The one place where wild flowers have increased is alongside roads. And it is here that we can give them a helping hand and help ourselves too. Plantlife, the wild flower charity, is encouraging people to contact their local council and ask them to change the way they manage roadside verges.
The idea is that councils should cut verges less often, allowing flowers to flourish and set seed so that they will be there in future years. This will help the more delicate species, such as vetches, orchids, and harebells, which otherwise are outcompeted by larger species such as Queen Anne’s Lace (cow parsley), blackberry and stinging nettles, as well as aggressive grasses. These all thrive in the nitrogen-enriched zone alongside busy roads. It’s not that we don’t want them (we enjoy picking blackberries, and some of our most attractive butterflies feed on nettles) but a balance is needed to help a variety of flowers and plants with different needs.
The great thing about mowing less often is that it saves money, whilst improving the environment for us, and helping the wild flowers and the insects that depend on them – win, win, win. Careful planning means that road safety need not be compromised.
Locally, Shropshire County Council is now cutting a limited width of most rural verges only once a year . I have also noticed that Sandwell Council is limiting the mown area on some of the wider verges and open spaces alongside the Borough’s roads.
If you want to encourage your local council to do the same, you can find out more on Plantlife’s website www.plantlife.org.uk . There you can also sign their petition about this, and find a model letter to send to your local authority.