Verge cutting to be reviewed to help wildflowers and wildlife

(Photo: Get Surrey, via LDRS)
By Rebecca Curley, Local Democracy Reporter, 11 July

The number of times a year roadside verges are mowed is to be cut back in a bid to protect wildflowers and wildlife habitats.

The commitment by Surrey County Council also includes a review of its use of glyphosate – a controversial weed killer linked to cancer.

Councillors voted in favour of the changes at a full council meeting on Tuesday 9 July with many speaking passionately about the need to protect the verges.

Cllr Jonathan Essex who put forward the motion for changes said the current schedule agreed for mowing is for four cuts a year in urban areas and two for rural roads.

But the motion calls for a review of the frequency of highway verge cuts, to manage the timings of the cuts to help wildlife, and for a trial of environmentally-friendly alternatives to glyphosate.

Cllr Essex said: “Glyphosate has been found to kill the bacteria in a honey bee’s gut and without wildflowers bees will have less nectar. This motion looks at the two things together.”

He said a pollinator action plan will “send a signal to how we believe the environment in Surrey” should be managed.

Cllr Matt Furniss, lead member for highways, amended the motion saying he’d had a “meeting of minds” with Cllr Essex who said he agreed.

He said they need to work with the boroughs and districts as they carry out the work on behalf of the county council, to determine when the cutting will be done.

Cllr Furniss, who works in the organic food industry, said they need to communicate to residents why they are changing how they cut verges.

He said: “I’m sure there is 50% of people who would like more cuts of the verges to maintain a very neat environment. And then there is probably another 50% who would very much like to have them longer for the wildlife and the biodiversity.”

Cllr Robert Evans showed a picture of a central reservation area in Rotherham which was a “river” of wildflowers.

Cllr Helyn Clack, vice-chairman of the county council, asked for it to be a “pragmatic solution” because some cyclists and pedestrians use the verges for safety reasons to escape traffic.

She said: “We do need to make sure our roads are safe for people to be able to walk and enjoy and ride their horses and get off the main road as much as possible while allowing the wild flowers to grow.”

The motion was passed with 63 votes in favour and three abstentions.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Essex said reducing the amounts of cuts can also save money.

He said: “Many residents have noticed that where public spaces have been left uncut into July we are enjoying a beautiful array of wildflowers this year – it really makes a positive difference to our environment.”