Balance of safety and nature driving verge cutting plans

With the annual verge cutting programme getting underway today (Monday 13 May) the need to balance supporting nature, and keeping roads safe, is again the focus for Norfolk County Council.

More than 11,000 miles of roads are under the care of the county council. Verges along the majority of roads are cut twice between May and September each year.

Cllr Martin Wilby, Norfolk County Council Cabinet Member for Highways, Infrastructure & Transport, said: “We only cut verges for safety reasons, not appearance. Safety will always be a top priority on our roads and making sure verges are cut for visibility every year is a vital piece of the work we do to keep our roads safe.

“I’m very proud of the work we’ve been doing over more than 20 years to support the now 112 roadside nature reserves we have across the county. A real success story has been the Sulphur Clover Project, where we have worked with Norfolk Wildlife Trust and the Norfolk Farming and Wildlife Group (FWAG) to increase the number of sites this rare plant grows. For over 10 years sulphur clover seed has been harvested from roadside nature reserves, and with the help of landowners the seed has been given new homes on the clay soils of South Norfolk where the plant can grow well.”

Up to around 1 metre of verge from the edge of the road is cut in most areas with wider areas around corners and junctions cut to make sure visibility is maintained. In urban areas roadside verges are usually cut five times a year, and areas maintained on the county council’s behalf by other local councils may see more frequent cuts. Highways England maintain the A11 and A47.

Actions to support rare species on our roadsides are continuing. One-hundred and twelve roadside nature reserves maintained by the county council, in partnership with Norfolk Wildlife Trust, are home to a range of vulnerable plants. In these reserves cutting takes place once in or around September each year. Rare species such as crested cow-wheat, sulphur clover, and Breckland speedwell, are protected by roadside nature reserves. In Norfolk, there are also verges designated for toad migratory routes and rare fungi.

Helen Baczkowska, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Conservation Officer, said: “As wildflower rich grasslands have become rarer in the wider countryside, roadside verges today have increased importance as refuges for plants which have declined elsewhere.

"The grassland and hedgerows along our road networks also play a vital role as corridors for wildlife to move along and help connect our increasingly isolated ‘islands’ of good habitat where wildlife still thrives. Without any cutting many of the rarer plant species would not survive and so with sensitive management and careful planning the needs of both road safety and looking after wildlife can both be met.

"We are fortunate in Norfolk still to have many road verges rich not just in flowers but also in bees, butterflies and other pollinators bringing wider benefits to adjacent farmland.”
And the highway teams’ work to support flora and fauna along Norfolk newest road, the Broadland Northway, is proving a success. Barn owls have been seen on the platform of one of the owl boxes, and bats are using the green bridge carrying Marriott’s Way over the dual carriageway and have also been recorded in one of the new bat houses. The wildlife ponds are thriving, and wildflowers are blooming alongside the 6,700 trees and 181,000 shrubs planted along the 12 mile route.

Ed Stocker, Norfolk County Council Ecologist, said: “Activities such as road improvements, tree and hedgerow maintenance, surface water drainage and gritting all have to consider protected species, protected areas and biodiversity in general.

“From 2019 we will be working more closely with Norfolk Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers to survey and protect the most important wildflowers. We are currently replacing the roadside nature reserve posts that mark out the sections to be left out of the main mowing schedule, and these are clearly labelled so do look out for these as you travel around the county.”

Further information is available on our Grass cutting page.

Grass cuttings are not collected on all but the roadside nature reserves as the cost of collection and disposal is considerable.