‘On The Verge’ of change in Alresford

Alresford has been chosen by Winchester City Council for a pilot scheme, which will see the number of times our verges are cut reduced from nine to four per year. This will boost our wildflowers and pollinators. Find out more about this scheme, why it is important and how you can get involved.

Why verges matter

Over 97% of all flower rich grassland has been lost in England since the 1930’s. Restoration and conservation is important not only to provide essential habitat for our pollinators, like bees and butterflies, but also to support other wildlife.

We have 238,000 hectares of road verges compared to just 85,000 hectares of surviving species-rich grassland ~ Plantlife

Our roadside verges are a vital refuge, with more pollinators found on well-managed verges than in the neighbouring countryside.

Making a ‘B Line’

Alresford and the Itchen Valley lies on a national ‘B Line’. These B Lines are insect corridors, forming part of a countrywide network running through our countryside and towns, along which wildflower-rich areas are being restored and created.

Buglife’s B Line Map:

How the 2020 ‘lockdown’ demonstrated the benefits of less cutting

The first lockdown saw UK roads fall eerily quiet, not just because drivers stayed at home but in many areas council mowing also ceased and our verges flourished.

Lockdown has demonstrated that, given the opportunity, many of our road verges are flower-rich and have the potential to help address the current ‘pollinator crisis’ (the lack of habitats for insects such as bees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths). ~ Buglife

Overly frequent cutting regimes have another cost – driving up the UK’s carbon emissions. Mower engines can generate up to ten times the emissions of passenger cars.

Wildflowers appearing on our waysides and road verges are an uplifting sight, contributing significantly to our wellbeing ~ Dr Trevor Dines, Plantlife’s Botanical Specialist

About the scheme

Winchester City Council cuts verges within the 30 mile per hour limit areas of our towns and villages.

Last July we watched contractors cut short grass on Jacklyns Lane even shorter. This cut seemed totally unnecessary – it removed the tops of any wildflowers, left the verge more prone to drying out and wasted energy.

We asked WCC to look at how often they cut our verges. 

WCC came back to say they make nine cuts a year. The council is contractually obliged to carry out four cuts a year by Hampshire County Council. The additional five cuts were added at some point in the past and the policy has not been reviewed for several years. 

Winchester City Council set up a steering group made up of the council’s ecologists, representatives from Hampshire County Council and the contractor idverde. The contractor has invested in a machine which will collect the cuttings or ‘arisings’. Verge management has now been included in the District’s Biodiversity Action Plan.

Two locations, Alresford and Badgers Farm, have been selected for the pilot scheme, trialling a reduction to the contracted four annual cuts. In addition, a further two areas of verge in Alresford will be reduced to just two cuts this year. We have put forward a shortlist and will update you on the chosen sites. We don’t yet have details on the timing of these cuts, but will update you when we do.

How you can get involved

  • Join the New Leaf Alresford scheme by adopting a section of verge near you and collecting the cuttings, or ‘arisings’, after each of the four cuts this year. Some verges will have the arisings collected by the contractor. Collecting the arisings keeps nutrient levels low, boosting the number of wildflowers in your verge and helping to support bees, butterflies and other pollinators. The arisings can be left to dry on the verge for 1-7 days, which allows any flower seed to shed, then they can be composted or placed in your brown garden waste bin.
  • If you live outside Alresford and have identified a local verge which you believe would benefit from reduced cuts, you can erect signs to tell the contractor that it is a wildflower verge and to ask them not to cut it. Remember to remove signs at the end of the flowering season and ideally collect arisings once it has been cut, to boost the numbers of wildflowers. Wild Valley Verges (Itchen Valley) have some signs available and if you would like one of these please email enquiries@newleafalresford.org

No seeding please

Some of us may be tempted to reseed the verges to encourage more wildflowers to grow, however, there are some important things you need to know first.

  1. Inappropriate planting could actually damage our verges. Introducing non-native species could affect the delicate balance of our wildflowers and pollinators, and risks introduction of invasive or unwelcome species.
  2. Winchester City Council have asked that individuals do not reseed the verges as part of this pilot.
  3. Cultivating a verge requires a license from Hampshire County Council, which costs £133 for 5 years.

Many verges have existing wildflowers which will thrive when cutting is reduced and some natural self-seeding will occur.

A (very) quick guide to boosting wildflowers on your verge:

  • Cut less often, preferably just twice
  • Cut at the right time – preferably avoid cutting between April and September
  • Collect the ‘arisings’ – by raking the verge and collecting the cuttings you keep nutrient levels lower and boost the number of wildflowers

A local wild verges forum

We have formed a local forum with similar groups and interested individuals who have been active in promoting wildflower verges in their area. The group includes Wild Valley Verges (based in the Itchen Valley) and Worthy Conservation Volunteers, and is chaired by Yvette Riley. We have learnt from the experience and knowledge of contributors to this group. 

We look forward to updating you with details on the timing of the four cuts WCC’s contractor will undertake in Alresford this year. 

Watch this space…