Bumper year for wildflowers is blooming great news
One unexpected benefit of the coronavirus pandemic is a bonanza of colourful grass verges as councils cut roadside mowing to save cash and to cope with staff shortages because they are redeployed to other services such as emptying bins.
“Wildflower meadows could have their best summer for years,” said Midlands green energy expert Ron Fox. “As well as boosting plant species and encouraging more butterflies it will also help our carbon footprint by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
The charity Plantlife said mowing cutbacks could increase species such as bee orchid, oxeye daisy, yellow rattle, wild carrot, white campion, harebell and field scabious.
More than 700 species of wildflowers grow on 300,00 miles of UK grass verges, covering almost three times more land than wildflower meadows.
Ron said there had been two major problems. Firstly, roadside verges have been drenched with nitrogen emissions from vehicle exhausts. This fertilises the hardier species in the plant world, which can harness the nitrogen to grow and out-compete more delicate wildflowers.
Secondly, the verges, which have to be maintained by law, were cut up to 12 times a year and the grass cuttings were left where they fell.
In the spring the resulting mulch smothered the young plant shoots and the fertile soil caused the grass to grow more vigorously, so needing to be cut more frequently. In the autumn verges were mown before plants had the chance to seed.
Previously, wildflower meadows and verges, ancient British ecosystems crucial for wildlife, thrived for centuries with the help of traditional farming methods.
But in the post-war era industrialised use of nitrogen fertilisers and poor land management have diminished the wildlife habitat by 97 per cent since the 1930s.
As Ron pointed out: “Plants are the powerhouses of our food chains. They are the only things that are collecting energy from the sun and pumping it into the food chain as well as absorbing carbon dioxide. Without that diversity of plants, you don’t get the variety of insects, birds and mammals.”
Plantlife is campaigning to turn verges into wildlife corridors and its petition has already attracted more than 85,000 signatures.
If the move was adopted nationwide, an area the size of Nottinghamshire could see 700 species of wildflowers thriving along the UK road network, equivalent to around 40 per cent of the government’s land restoration targets for 2040.
The charity wants verges to be mown only twice a year with the first cut in August after the flowers have seeded and the second before the end of March, a move they reckon could save 22,754 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from tractor mowers.
Counties are beginning to take up the campaign. When austerity meant that Dorset council hadn’t enough money to pay for repeated verge cuttings complaints poured in about messy roadsides.
So they reduced the grass cutting which they then made into hay.
Vast stretches of roadside were transformed with huge increases in wildflowers and butterflies and their annual budget for highway management fell from £1m to £650,000.
For more advice on green energy matters contact Ron on 0845 474 6641.