Across the UK, roads have fallen eerily quiet as drivers observe lockdown. But it is not just the daily commute that has ceased. So has the drone of many councils’ mowers due to staff shortages. Less spring verge cutting – a silver lining to the coronavirus crisis - will benefit wild flowers and help tackle the climate emergency says Plantlife, Europe's largest conservation charity dedicated to wild flowers.
We have 238,000 hectares of road verges compared to just 85,000 hectares of surviving species-rich grassland: for many wild flowers these roadside mini-meadows are their main refuge. Over 700 species of wildflowers grow on verges, nearly 45% of our total flora. Last year, Plantlife launched best practice management guidelines to help all councils get cutting right. Normally in early spring, the sound of verge mowers is a familiar blight: overly frequent cutting at the wrong time of year when species are in peak flowering – often simply to provide a neat and tidy appearance - has dramatically affected the health and diversity of these unassuming yet crucial habitats.
Once-familiar flowers are losing ground, unable to compete with the mower and thick thatch of cuttings it leaves behind, ‘enriching’ the verge and encouraging nitrogen-loving ‘thuggish’ species like nettles to take over. Plantlife highlights ten summer-flowering flowers that have sought refuge from our intensively farmed countryside on verges but are now declining there: oxeye daisy, yellow rattle, wild carrot, meadow crane's-bill, greater knapweed, white campion, burnet-saxifrage, betony, harebell and field scabious. Will this summer be their best for years?