Wildflower verges are part of the High Weald’s natural beauty and often a refuge for wildlife that has disappeared elsewhere.
For many of us, whether walkers, riders or drivers, verges are our closest daily contact with nature. Primroses and bluebells on roadside banks are a welcome sign of spring; and the nodding heads of ox-eye daisies, and pastel pink of common-spotted orchids, announce the arrival of summer.
Who manages verges?
The AONB team does not manage road verges. Trunk roads (A21, A23, A27 and the A259 east of Hastings) are managed by Highways England. All other A, B, C and unclassified roads are managed by the local highway authority (our county councils). Generally, all authorities now cut rural roadside verges infrequently, unless more regular cutting is needed to maintain access and visibility. Parish and town councils may choose to have verges cut more frequently (at their expense), using either the county council’s contractors or their own contractors.
Are the High Weald's roadside verges protected?
Some verges across High Weald have been designated as ‘wildflower verges’ by county councils. Different counties use different signage to indicate these verges and each county has a bespoke cutting regime for these verges.
Unfortunately, the High Weald’s historic routeways (and most verges) are a non-designated heritage asset and therefore unprotected. However, historic routeways are an important part of the natural beauty of the High Weald. The High Weald AONB Management Plan therefore sets out their significance, and action that is needed to conserve and enhance them. The Plan has been adopted by the areas 15 local authorities and they (and other bodies) need to demonstrate they have considered the area’s natural beauty (and therefore historic routeways and their verges) in their decision-making.
More on the High Weald AONB Management Plan
Verge types in the High Weald
There are four types of verge in the High Weald AONB:
• Species-rich grassland verges
• Species-rich woodland verges
• Species-poor grassland verges; and
• Amenity grassland verges.
The best management approach will depend on the verge type.
pdf High Weald Road Verge Types Information Sheet (1.10 MB)
What mowing regime is best for wildlife?
Species-rich woodland verges should not be cut at all. Generally, the following principles apply to all grassland verges.
• Continue cutting, otherwise the verge will eventually grow scrub, then trees, and the verge habitat will disappear. If the verge is species-rich, the rare grassland plants will be lost.
• Cut less (only once or twice per year) as this is generally best for wildlife. A two-cut management approach is ideal for suppressing vigorous plants and encouraging delicate wild flowers.
• Cut in summer or autumn after plants have flowered and dropped their seed (rather than spring which prevents plants flowering).
• Vary the cutting time each year during the summer/autumn; this benefits a range of species.
• Remove cuttings. This is very important. If cuttings are left the thick thatch inhibits wildflower germination and increases soil nutrients, stimulating vigorous plants rather than delicate plants.
• If a ‘neat’ verge is important, limiting regular mowing to just the grassland edge is often a good compromise.
How can I help?
• Take note of the plant species growing in your verges. This will help decide its wildlife value and the best management regime for wildlife.
• If your verge is species-rich ask the highway authority if it can be a designated wildlife verge.
• Highlight what is special about your verges to others; take pictures and share them, produce temporary information boards or run an event to spread the word.
• Avoid planting non-native bulbs such as daffodils in species-rich verges; it disturbs the natural ecosystem, particularly the soil, and may harm native wildlife.
• Avoid driving on and parking on verges. Soil compaction will stop wildflowers from growing.
• Discourage dumping of other natural materials on verges e.g. ditch dredgings and woodchip piles. These smother rare plants and encourage vigorous rather than delicate plants.
• Install vehicle deterrents recommended by highways authorities to protect verges from damage (see the Surrey County Council site below for useful details).
• Ask authorities to consider mowing contracts that achieve multiple benefits: reduced costs, visibility and scenic beauty and wildlife benefits.
• Ask authorities and their contractors to undertake two-cut management and invest in cut and collect machines. Over time removing cuttings (which reduces vigourous plants) will make the verge easier to manage.
• Set up a community cut-and-collect project. If the verge is small enough grass clippings can be raked by hand and composted nearby.
• Support national charity Plantlife, with their road verge management for wildlife campaign.
Is it a good idea to sow wildflower seeds on verges?
Sowing generic wildflower seed mixes is not recommended. Sowing into a species-poor verge is unlikely to be successful as the soils will be too fertile and the seeds won’t compete with the vigorous plants. Sowing generic mixes into a species-rich verge threatens the natural flora.
If a verge has poor soils (low phosphorus levels), creating a wildlife verge with locally sourced wildflower seed or green hay is possible, provided there is an ongoing mowing regime that will ensure successful growth. If you would like advice, please contact the AONB team.
Plantlife’s Good Verge Guide: a different approach to managing waysides and verges
Links to county highways verge management information.
East Sussex County Council - highways management of wildlife verges
West Sussex County Council - highways management of grass cutting
Kent County Council - highways management of grass maintenance
Surrey County Council highways management of roadside and pavement verges
You may also be interested in:
The Story of the High Weald's Routeways
Wildflower meadow management
The AONB team
pdf High Weald NRA Review Roadsides for Biodiversity report (1.33 MB)