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Managing road verges and amenity grassland to support biodiversity.

First published:
6 May 2022
Last updated:

The nature emergency

We are in a nature emergency. Our wildlife is declining and we need to act now to save it.

We can make road verges and amenity grasslands (parks and other open green spaces) more wildlife friendly. Regularly cut, closely mown grass may look tidy but it has little benefit for wildlife. Letting grass grow and having more meadow-like areas with wildflowers helps wildlife.

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Comparison between letting grass grow into meadow-like area with wildflowers and mown meadow (on right)

Animals and plants benefit from having meadow-like green areas

Plants

Wildflowers, including rare wildflowers, grow and produce seeds, allowing them to increase year-on-year.

Invertebrates

Wildflowers and grasses provide food for insects, including:

  • bumblebees
  • hoverflies
  • beetles
  • butterflies
  • moths
  • grasshoppers

Long grass gives shelter to lay their eggs and complete their life cycles. Meadow soils contain high numbers of earthworms. 

Mammals

Bats, field mice, voles, shrews and hedgehogs eat the plants and invertebrates found in meadows.

Amphibians

Frogs and toads feed on invertebrates.

Reptiles

Slow-worms and lizards also eat invertebrates, and grass snakes eat frogs. 

Birds

Small birds like goldfinches eat seeds from wildflowers. Other birds such as swallows and swifts eat insects. Kestrels, buzzards and barn owls feed on small mammals.

Image
bee collecting pollen on a grass verge

Changing how we cut grass is about saving wildlife not reducing costs

Changing how we cut grass can create more native wildflower meadows. Even if some of these patches are small, it will all add up to a big area. Wildlife will be able to move between wildflower habitats as they become connected.

Road verges and amenity grasslands: supporting people

As well as supporting wildlife, people enjoy seeing wildflowers. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of nature for our wellbeing. It has also highlighted the need to reverse the decline in biodiversity.

Many people know that trees and peatlands can store carbon. This can help us to combat the climate emergency. It is less well known that soils in grassland can also store carbon. Species-rich grassland stores more carbon than species-poor grassland. Having species-rich meadows:

  • along our roadsides 
  • in parks, and
  • in green spaces

can help us combat both the Nature and Climate Emergencies.   

Mowing less often stops soil becoming too compacted. Looser soils allow plant roots to develop better. This helps soil absorb water and reduces the impacts of flooding and drought.

Who Manages Road Verges and Amenity Grasslands?

We work with Trunk Road Agents to look after our trunk road and motorway network. Trunk roads and motorways are very busy roads. They connect major cities, towns and ports. The M4, A470 and A55 are a few examples. More information about verges on the trunk road and motorway network is available.

Local authorities manage most other road verges. Verges around villages and in residential areas may be looked after by:

  • community and town councils, and
  • housing associations

Publicly-owned amenity grassland is looked after by:

  • local authorities
  • community and town councils
  • housing associations, and
  • community groups

Under the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, public authorities must maintain and enhance biodiversity. Sympathetic mowing of road verges and amenity grasslands can help meet this duty.

Organisations who set out their grassland management priorities promote action:

  • through corporate support and management plans
  • by committing to the Bee Friendly scheme

This encourages workforces to work together and to adopt new approaches.

Plantlife has produced managing grassland road verges: a best practice guide (see resources section on https://roadverges.plantlife.org.uk). This was in collaboration with partners including ourselves.

Nature isn’t Neat (on monlife.co.uk) has developed a code of action. This includes alternative ways to manage grasslands. Nature isn’t Neat:

  • is part of the Gwent Green Grid Partnership (on monlife.co.uk)
  • is supported by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe Investing in Rural Areas, and
  • is funded by our Enabling of Natural Resources and Well-being Grant

Cut and collect

Cut and collect is a method that copies traditional ways of managing hay meadows. It involves collecting grass cuttings (arisings) after mowing. This is important because it:

  • prevents the build-up of dead vegetation, which can smother delicate plants
  • leaves more exposed ground to allow seeds to grow
  • reduces soil fertility, slowing the growth of nutrient-loving coarse grasses that choke wildflowers and finer grasses
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Cut and collect mower on amenity grassland

Road safety

It is also important that we keep roads safe for users. For visibility, we will need to manage certain areas to ensure safety. We may cut these more often:

  • junctions
  • verge edges
  • roundabouts

Our support for changes

Local Places for Nature is our initiative to create nature on your doorstep. It offers capital grants to buy equipment such as cut and collect machines. These help public sector organisations to:

  • change their mowing practices
  • expand the areas where they can enhance biodiversity

In 2021 to 22, all local authorities in Wales benefitted from this support. They are changing their mowing practices. We want more organisations to get involved to create more meadows for wildlife.

Local Places for Nature continues to improve grassland areas for biodiversity. It provides funding for capital projects for not-for-profit land managers in Wales, for example:

  • local authorities
  • community and town councils
  • housing associations
  • schools
  • NHS
  • others who manage not-for-profit grassland

For more information, contact your LNP coordinator. They have valuable expertise and knowledge. They can give advice on how to increase nature in local communities.

The Local Places for Nature Officer, Rachel Carter supports Community and Town Councils. Rachel provides advice and support to access funding. She also offers general support on biodiversity plans.

We have grant-funded projects to increase the extent of our wildflower-rich meadows: