Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Devonshire hedgerows and verges - and national guidance on cutting

It's controversial:

Grass verge wildlife ‘destroyed by councils’
26 May 2013 
Wildflowers on grass verges are a food source for bees and butterflies

Councils in the UK are destroying wildlife habitats by cutting grass verges too often, a charity has warned. Plantlife said verges supported hundreds of species of flowering plants and should be cut twice a year. It said three-quarters of councils it surveyed cut them multiple times. It received many calls from people "distraught" about the issue, it added. But the Local Government Association (LGA) said keeping verges shorter was safer for both drivers and pedestrians.

Plantlife is calling on councils to better manage the almost 600,000 acres (240,000 hectares) of roadside verges across the country. The verges support up to 1,000 plant species - including the rare bastard balm and long-leaved helleborine which are among 33 wayside flowers faced with extinction. One road verge in Warwickshire has the country's largest population of pyramidal orchids. It also has the UK's largest population of rockrose which attracts the scarce brown argus butterfly to the verge.

Plantlife said the A30 and A38 roads in Cornwall and Devon supported more than 1,000 acres of flower-rich grassland and one junction alone was home to six orchid species, including bee orchids and 1,100 greater butterfly orchids.
Wildflowers are also a vital food source for bees and butterflies, which have seen a significant decline in numbers in recent years. Wildflowers that are left to seed also feed birds and small mammals.

Plantlife said verges should be cut - and the cuttings removed - once early in the year and again in the late summer. Its survey found they were often cut multiple times over the summer. None of the councils surveyed collected the cuttings, which rotted down and added nutrients to the soil - making it too rich for most wildflowers

Plantlife's Trevor Dines said the way road verges were managed encouraged "coarse and thuggish plants" such as nettles, docks and coarse grasses. "Most verges, smothered in cuttings, might as well be just strips of concrete," he said. "Plantlife receives more calls on this subject than any other from members of the public distraught and angry that their favourite verges, full of cowslips and orchids, are being mown down in the name of neatness and good management." He urged people to help lobby for change by sending the charity "before" and "after" pictures of mown verges. He said the charity was working with several councils, including Worcestershire and Hampshire, to protect plants including Deptford pinks and tower mustard.

LGA environment and housing board chairman Mike Jones said Britain's wild flowers were important and councils encouraged native species "where they can". "However, councils must strike the right balance between road safety and wildlife," he said. "Keeping road verges well maintained ensures that motorists have a good line of sight and allows pedestrians to walk more safely alongside busy roads. It also prevents weeds and foreign species from spreading into private gardens."

DCC leader confirms hedgerow cutting is monitored

comments (3)

Devon County Council leader, John Hart, has confirmed that the council monitors the cutting of hedgerows, to ensure it is being carried out in accordance with national guidance, designed to protect wildlife.

DCC leader confirms hedgerow cutting is monitored
Photograph:  A beautiful East Devon hedgerow last weekend, with stitchwort, red campion and bluebells - important for many insects, including bees and butterflies.

Cllr Hart confirmed that DCC monitored hedge cutting, following my written question, submitted in advance of DCC’s annual council meeting last Thursday (23 May).

National guidance recommends that landowners cut hedges back in January and February only, to ensure the following:
- reducing the chance of disturbance to breeding birds, nesting birds and other species, such as bats and dormice, which are given legal protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
- most plants will have finished flowering and seeding
- it allows the availability of berries and nuts for feeding birds and other wildlife for as long as possible during the winter
- it is likely that there will be less traffic on the roads, reducing congestion and delays

Hedgerow removal is an offence without notifying the local planning authority (East Devon District Council), as per the Hedgerow Regulations Act, which controls the removal of hedgerows through a system of notification.
My written question was simply asking what the hedgerow cutting policy was.  The written answer distributed at the annual council meeting on Thursday, set out the guidance, after which I was allowed one supplementary question, which related to what monitoring took place, which I asked after outlining the serious problems affecting our wildlife.
Cllr Hart gave quite a long answer and although he confirmed that monitoring takes place, I intend to follow up to check how this works.
Following last week’s news on the dramatic decline in wildlife and habitat, I see this as a really important issue for councils.

Interestingly and coincidentally, there was a national news story over the weekend about how often councils cut their grass verges. BBC News - Grass verge wildlife 'destroyed by councils' 
Countryfile, aired last night, broadcast an interview with a Devon County Council highways officer, who confirmed that the council operated good practice by leaving a section of grass verge to grow unhindered, to allow wildflowers to flourish. BBC One - Countryfile, The Humber

The webcast is below and is expected to be ready for viewing in the next day or two.  You can click on the time next to the names on the “timeline” section on the right hand side of the screen to see the precise part of the meeting that you are interested in.

1. At 06:01 pm on 27th May John Artmony wrote:
What have you got against farmers Claire - you really don’t get it do you?
Why don’t you spend some time with the NFU visiting local farms to find out how they manage food production and the environment - rather than asking silly questions just for effect!!!  I give up!!!!  JA
2. At 08:53 pm on 27th May Mike Stott wrote:
Thank you for getting this issue into the public domain.  Along a stretch of road which I am sure is well known to you i.e. the east side of the Daisy Mount to Halfway Inn road there has been extensive cutting of the natural verges to create “Lawns”. This amounts to the sterilisation of the natural habitat in part of West Hill.. This practice of making intakes from what is in practice common land has a history and at times has achieved a change of ownership. I am interested what action the County Council is/has taken to protect/retrieve these West Hill intakes.
3. At 11:08 am on 28th May Sandra Semple wrote:
Why don’t the commentators who whinge about people with blogs who have specific points of view that are different to theirs start up their own blogs representing their views?  Or is it that their interest is in attempting to undermine others whose views are different from theirs rather than robustly promoting their own views in their own domains?
I for one would love to see a personal (I stress personal) blog putting the point of view of the farmers (or rather a farmer) in our area, written by a farmer for the lay person explaining the various incentives and pressures that they come under in the modern world.
We see an awful lot of general stuff about farming but it would be really interesting to get a local perspective telling us what is going on, who is helping farmers, who isn’t, etc.g
Equally, I would like to see blogs written from different political perspectives.  NOT party bumph but people honestly representing the ups and downs of their daily political lives - such as this blog does.
And it would give them an opportunity to see life from the other side of a blog - the nasty comments, the sniping, the trolling.  When it happens to them they might find that it is not very pleasant.
Claire Wright - Your Independent East Devon District Councillor for Ottery Rural

Wild Flowers

In the last seventy years more than 95% of British wildflower meadows have disappeared. That’s not only taken much of the colour out of our landscape, it is also disturbing a food chain that supports a huge array of plants and animals. This week Tom asks how we can reverse this ‘quiet catastrophe’. He joins one of the founders of the charity Plantlife to discover the huge potential for roadside verges as habitats for wild flowers. It’s a potential they are already starting to realise in Devon. Then Tom heads to Wandsworth to discover how urban areas can be transformed too. Here he finds experts from the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew who want communities to become involved in their campaign to create more habitats for wild flowers, ‘Grow Wild’.


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