Wildflowers on our roadside verges

The A24 between Dorking and Capel is notable for its bikers, but also for its central strip of grass, dotted with trees, between the two sides of the carriageway. Over the past few months, the verge has grown up and there have been wildflowers and long grasses waving in the breeze; a cheerful sight to see from the car window.

I wondered if the lack of a cut this spring was a result of the recent lockdown, which has seen some contractors put their work on hold. I contacted Surrey County Council to ask, and, at the time of writing, I’m waiting for a detailed response. So I asked Cllr Clayton Wellman, district councillor for the Holmwoods, whether he could enlighten me. The decision not to mow the verges along the A24 was a planned one by Surrey County Council, he told me, and came following years of campaigning by Cllr Claire Malcomson to reduce mowing and encourage wildflowers to grow. This spring, Surrey County Council cut only the strips adjacent to the road, to maintain sight lines, and allowed the greenery on either side to flourish. This change to the mowing regime means that we should see a similar picture of wildflowers along the road next year. Drivers along the carriageway at this point in the season will see plenty of cow parsley and long grasses, which provide a vital habitat for insects and birds. Cow parsley, with its white flowers and distinctive aroma, is a food for pollinators such as bees, which in turn are essential to the smooth running of our food chain.

Last week I took an evening stroll from my home in North Holmwood. I followed the late sunshine and found myself on a strip of green backing onto woodland where the grass had grown almost to waist height. There were purple heads of clover and bright buttercups peeking out at me amongst Yorkshire fog and meadow foxtail. And just a little further on, standing proud amongst the grasses, was a small cluster of common spotted orchids, beautiful little wildflowers and a joy to see. On walking the length of the woodland and reaching a road, I started to notice the roadside verges. Holmwood Park is dotted with grass verges of various sizes, which are generally mown short.  Now, many were alive with clover flowers and buttercups and as I looked more closely at one patch I saw bees buzzing industriously over the petals. Further on up the road and the story was the same, this time with the cheerful oxeye daisy adding to the mixture of flowers. These verges were, to my eyes, beautiful, and probably an essential food source to the insects buzzing round them.

Although I was unable to clarify this with Surrey County Council, it appears that lockdown has meant these verges have been left to grow, but, whatever the reason, I for one am happy about this. The subtle colours are, to my mind, far nicer to see than the short turfs, which dry out quickly in hot weather. Some householders have deliberately reduced their mowing this year to encourage wildflowers and their accompanying butterflies and bees; those of you on Twitter will find many examples at #nomowmay of what these unmown lawns look like. We need to look after pollinators, so they in turn can look after us by pollinating the crops we harvest. If that starts with a verge of cheerful flowers and elegant grasses, I think we all win.

Frances Jones

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