Roadside verges must be managed better to attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hoverflies, a report has said. With 97% of wildflower meadows lost since the 1930s, the new study from the University of Exeter emphasises the vital role that road verges could play in conserving pollinators and other wildlife.
Researchers surveyed flowers and pollinators at 19 sites, using transect counts and pan traps, to see how roadside verges and hedges can boost biodiversity in southwest England.
While the study emphasises that not all verges are equal, it found pollinators prefer less busy roads and areas deeper into verges. They also found that cutting verges in summer, which removes wildflowers, makes them useless for pollinators for weeks or even months.
Their research was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
‘Road verges can provide a fantastic home for wildflowers and pollinators, which is often lacking in our vast agricultural landscapes,’ said lead author Ben Phillips, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall. ‘But management is key – some road verges need to be cut for safety, but at the moment we cut far more than we need to. Most verges are cut in summer – the peak of flowering – but where possible they should be left until autumn, when pollinators are less active. Our results show that the part of the verge within two metres of the road contains the fewest pollinators. This is often the most important part to cut for road safety and visibility, so where possible only this part should be cut in summer.’
In related news, the conservation charity Plantlife has launched a petition to save wildlife on roadside verges which has been signed by over 70,000 people. Plantlife’s key message for their campaign, which is supported by academics at Exeter, is to ‘cut less, cut later’.