Habitats on the Verge
Roadside verges play a more important ecological role than many people probably realise, with many plant and bird species taking advantage of the micro-ecosystem that they provide. Because of their fragile nature, these roadside oases are in need of protection and careful maintenance.
The natural beauty and biodiversity of roadside verges calls for a careful balancing act between under and over cutting. If verges are left to grow, with no interference, then wild flowers will disappear as larger and more aggressive plant life takes over. On the other hand, over cutting the verge will also have an effect on the diversity of plants and the insects that depend on them for survival.
The Importance of Planned Verge Management
Roadside verges are often mown when wild flowers are in full bloom, and this can have a disastrous impact on the butterfly and bee populations that rely on the wild flowers for nectar. Verges should only be mown once a year, after the end of August but before the end of March. Any other maintenance carried out should only be done to preserve sight lines and related road safety.
For several decades, roadside verges have been disregarded as being something that flashes by the wing mirror, with little further thought given to them. As an example of their importance, consider the Fen Ragwort or the Wood Calamint - these plant species, and more besides, have escaped extinction thanks to a few well-managed roadside verges.
If wild flowers are to survive, then roadside verges need to be much more carefully managed than they are presently.
Roadside Verges and Wildlife
Butterflies and bumblebees love roadside verges, frequenting the wild flowers that they provide a sanctuary for. Insects are responsible for the pollination of around 80% of the wild plants in Britain, sadly many populations of pollinators are also in decline which is another reason why road verges need to be properly managed.
As a vital part of the roadside verge ecosystem, several birds of prey can be seen hovering and hunting around the roadways of the United Kingdom. Verges can provide homes for small rodents, as well as invertebrates, making these habits perfect hunting grounds.
Among the birds of prey that can be spotted along the nation’s roadside verges, you will see kestrels, sparrowhawks and buzzards. Although kestrels used to be a common sight along hedgerows and verges, their recent decline has seen them play second fiddle to other species in the bird spotting stakes.
Modern Agricultural Practices
It is thought that agricultural practices and the use of rodenticides are responsible for the overall decline of kestrel populations, both of which can be combated. Agriculture has caused suitable nesting sites to disappear, and with rodents such as mice declining, the kestrel’s food source is also beginning to wane.
Roadside verge maintenance, performed properly, can help provide a natural and suitable home for small rodents. This, together with strategically placed nesting boxes, could see a possible kestrel resurgence.
Several species flora and fauna rely heavily on the roadside verges that can be found throughout the United Kingdom. The next time you are driving along any road, consider the importance of that verge that you may usually ignore.