Wednesday, 25 October 2017 09:46

Novel approach maintains rural roadsides

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Novel approach maintains rural roadsides

A county council is minimising verge growth on rural roadsides – and saving money at the same time.

With over 4,970 miles of rural verges, Dorset County Council aims to reduce the cost of ongoing maintenance by reducing the amount of cutting taking place.

At the same time, it says it wants to transform rural roadsides into a wildflower feast for pollinators.

Phil Sterling, the council's coast and countryside service manager, said: “We spend a vast amount each year cutting our verges.

"By understanding how to reduce the amount the grass grows in the first place, we can be more efficient and save money.

"The bit we can control is soil fertility – the more nutrients in the soil, the more the grass grows.

"Conversely, on poor soils, grass growth is less so we have less to cut; it is that easy."

Dr Sterling says the council can reduce fertility of the soils by cutting and removing the cut grass on existing verges, or by reducing the amount of grass verge and replacing it with limestone shingle.

"As an added benefit, poor soils allow a greater range of wildflowers to thrive, so the strategy to reduce fertility makes the verges much more interesting for wildflowers and insect pollinators.”

Over the last six months the verges along the Weymouth Relief Road have been cut – with the cuttings collected to gradually reduce their fertility.

The move is part of a spend-to-save project on the verges between the Ridgeway and Weymouth.

The next phase, which has just begun, will be to severely cut the verges and rake them, prior to sowing native wildflower seeds to reduce grass growth.

These wildflowers will make the verges not only attractive to look at in coming summers, but provide a highway for wildlife.

Dr Sterling says: "This preparatory work is cutting the existing grass to its base, revealing the soil in places, so it will look messy for a short while.

"The grass will grow back quite quickly, even over the winter, and the wildflower seeds will also start to germinate during this time.”

The local authority believes it can reduce the overall cost of £60,000 per year to under £30,000 per year, which it describs as "a significant saving".

Landscape work on the roundabouts will cost around £14,000 – paid by the council’s transformation fund.

This will save approximately £1,200 a year currently spent on strimming and grass cutting.

The purchase and sowing of the wildflower mix costs just £3,800 and should provide a permanent summer display of wildflowers along the verges.

People in this conversation

  • Guest (Ian Reid)


    This is a spendid initiative for promoting biodiversity and creating vital wildlife corridors. The budget savings seem to be modest if these are whole-county projections; they might be being highlighted as persuasion for those council tax payers who are humancentric and who deem that the world should be organised for people alone. As important is that at least some tax is spent enhancing landscape amenity. This provides win-win; the beneficiaries are not only wildlife, but the people who pass by

    from Kilnwick, Driffield YO25 9JF, UK
  • I have thought would be a good approach for some time but have not had any success in getting it taken up. However our village conservation volunteers do maintain 2 wide verges and in the summer they look great.
    So much money gets wasted on unnecessary verge cutting often way back beyond the carriageway which just leaves a nutrient rich mulch and just encourages more vigorous growth the next year.

  • This sounds excellent work. We are trying to move to this in Warwickshire however the lack of equipment to gather the grass cuttings is currently an issue. We would welcome some further information on the detail of equipment used and any report you had to write for your council to accept this approach. The costings above are useful guide re scale of economic difference to be made. We are also exploring use of green hay from wildflower rich meadows (from relevant soil) to strew on to verges.

  • I agree with Dr Sterling. We have lost 98% of our flower-rich biodiverse grasslands to agricultural intensification in the last 40 years and the loss of biodiversity continues across the British Isles. Sensitive management of our road network can help redress this shocking loss, in part, and provide ecosystem services, attractive scenery, and a home for wildlife, while reducing costs. The A48 east of Carmarthen is an excellent example of this.

  • Guest (Carl Bendelow)


    Why not cut the grass and put it in a local AD plant to create energy. This will also reduce verge fertility, laying gravel would urbanise the countryside at great cost and not benefit the source areas.

    from Appleby-in-Westmorland CA16, UK
  • Yes this could be a good use for the cuttings. We do need a network of small BD units to take advantage of naturally arising biomass and not expect farmers to grow crops on good land to feed them instead of us!
    On the continent some verges are wide enough to bale although there would be a litter problem ton address.

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