BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 11 June '15

One of our most important and frequently viewed habitats is being destroyed – but there’s hope…

A new Plantlife study shows that Britain’s road verges are home to 703 species of wild plants, more than in any other part of our landscape, and that 87 of them are either threatened with extinction or heading that way.

88% of these wild plants provide nectar and pollen for bees and other insects, making road verges essential refuges for insect life. Bird’s-foot trefoil alone is a food plant for 132 species of insect.

The nation’s favourite wild flower – the public has voted, and the results are in…

Premature mowing

But in much of Britain road verges are still being needlessly cut down in full flower, threatening the wildflowers and the wildlife that depend on them.

Many councils have already started cutting verges, which will greatly reduce one of the most important food banks for our ailing bees and other pollinators as it’s much too early in the year for flowers to be able to set seed.

‘Over 97% of meadows have been destroyed in England since the 1930s. In many areas, rural road verges are the last remaining stretches of natural habitat for our wildlife. Road safety is the absolute priority, but we know that verges can be managed better for wildlife whilst remaining safe for motorists. This means adopting some simple changes to management – like a delay in cutting to allow seed to be set – so that wildflowers can thrive.’

Dr Trevor Dines, Plantlife’s botanical specialist

Home to our favourite flowers

21 of the nation’s 25 favourite wild flowers grow on road verges. From cowslips and bluebells in spring to swathes of cow parsley and ox-eye daisies in early summer, our verges are home to most of our 25 favourite wild flowers, as voted for by the public.

With 30 million drivers in the UK, they’re the most frequently viewed habitat, too – providing many people with their only regular daily contact with Nature.

New guidelines proposed

Plantlife has produced new management guidelines and is urging the public to sign a petition asking local councils to adopt them.

Some councils are leading the way; trials in Dorset are investigating how to combat the over-vigorous growth of grass on fertile verges (which is detrimental to wildflowers and obscures driver sight-lines) by stripping turf, using semi-parasitic yellow rattle to stunt grass growth and even grazing verges with sheep.

Plantlife is helping to showcase the work of councils like Dorset to show others that it can be done.

‘Wild flowers can return’

The new guidelines are currently being applied to 11,700km of verge; covering 2,300 hectares, that’s equivalent to 2.5 times the area of remaining upland hay meadow in the UK. With the public’s support, Plantlife can do even more.

‘If we just give them a chance, wildflowers can return. Meadow crane’s-bill was once widespread in meadows – hence its name – but is now more commonly found on road verges. It spreads readily when cutting is delayed and it’s allowed to set seed. Maybe it’s time to change its name to “verge crane’s-bill.’

Dr Trevor Dines, Plantlife’s botanical specialist

Click here to read Plantlife’s petition. The full management guidelines can be found here.