What a difference a year makes!
The pilot project to look at the way verges are managed was launched in Alresford by Winchester City Council at the start of 2021.
The purpose of the pilot was to trial a reduction in the number of cuts from nine per annum to four, with three specially selected verges trialled with just two cuts.
The benefits of fewer cuts include a boost to wildflowers and pollinators as well as a reduction in carbon emissions. Over 97% of all flower rich grassland has been lost in England since the 1930’s, so restoration and conservation is important not only to provide essential habitat for our pollinators, like bees and butterflies, but also to support other wildlife.
As these pictures of Alresford verges taken in the same week one year apart show, the difference is already transformational.
22nd July 2020
27th July 2021
The pilot has highlighted a number of teething problems. Changing a legacy contract set for nine cuts a year has not been easy. There have been organisational and communication issues. Safety cuts should not have been affected by the pilot but these were missed, which generated complaints and concerns about safety at some road junctions in early June.
The one metre margin cut for safety and tidiness around the ‘special’ two-cut verges, which was agreed at the start of the pilot, was only completed for the first time in early August! Even bushes adjacent to footpaths around the town were neglected this year, making some of the paths almost impassable, and the verges pilot was deemed at fault by some.
The pilot sees several verges cut less often, but it takes longer to cut the taller grasses and there have been difficulties fitting the change in work distribution into existing schedules.
The ‘No Mow’ signs marking the two-cut verges have been vandalised or stolen on three occasions and pyramidal orchids were picked and left at one of the verge sites.
The steering group, made up of ecologists, contractors and councillors, has conducted an interim review of the pilot and the learning points so far.
To ensure teething issues are resolved, the pilot will now focus on the most significant verge areas in the town and exclude smaller, narrower verges which offer little biodiversity gain once safety margins have been cut.
Maps below show the verges which are now included in the pilot, highlighted in green.
Jacklyns Lane North
Jesty Road, Mitford Road and New Farm Road
Jacklyns Lane South, Linnets Road and Benenden Green
The pilot in Alresford has been ambitious and is still in its infancy, but it has been so encouraging to see how many wildflowers appeared and established themselves in the first few months. We even got a mention in The Economist – thankfully there have been no reports of ‘flashers’ hiding in the long grass, a concern voiced in Sunderland according to the article!
We hope that the pilot will now continue more smoothly and we look forward to watching our vibrant verges develop.