Wildflowers and South Somerset – what we’re doing to let wildlife flourish
There has been a long-running campaign to encourage councils to let grass verges become mini meadows where wildflowers and wildlife can flourish.
Plantlife is behind the campaign suggesting that the UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows in less than a century - with roadside verges particularly hard hit. It says a "cut less, cut later" approach by councils and highways authorities could significantly improve the health of the UK's verges.
It became more prominent recently when photographs from Rotherham went viral showing miles and miles of wildflower verges.
Plantlife leads the campaign suggesting that the UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows in less than a century - with roadside verges particularly hard hit. It says a "cut less, cut later" approach by councils and highways authorities could significantly improve the health of the UK's verges.
South Somerset District Council is not responsible for the vast majority of roadside verges but it is taking action where it can to support the growth of wildflowers and increase biodiversity.
A number of residents have asked specifically what the Council is doing so we asked Cllr Sarah Dyke, our portfolio holder for Environment, as well as Katy Menday and Chris Cooper, our lead specialists for Leisure & Recreation and Environment Services respectively, your questions.
How is South Somerset District Council supporting the initiative to promote wildflower growth?
Cllr Dyke said: “We very much support any initiative that can benefit the environment and add to our already diverse and beautiful landscape.
“Of course, you also have to balance safety with our commitment to boost biodiversity and wildlife wherever we can.
“We’ve taken a look at the initiative to reduce cutting grass verges to increase habitat for pollinators. This can and will work really well in some locations. Our careful management will play a crucial role to preserve a wealth of different flowering plants and wildlife.”
Chris Cooper added: “Areas where this can work includes country roads where the verges are cut with a tractor flail once or twice a year and it will also work well with certain areas of our parks and roundabouts.
Wild orchid growing on the roundabout near the Red House on the A37
“It won’t work everywhere. On some grassland, the simple reduction of mowing doesn’t fit due to the fertility of the soil which is really rich and therefore grows grass really well as oppose to wild flowers. We end up with dock leaves and nettles, and long grass predominantly rather than pollinator species.”
What specific actions have been taken?
Chris Cooper: “We are sowing wild flower areas for floral impact and identifying what we call ‘headlands’ in open spaces – less technically, the bit around the edges of council-run parks for example, or underneath areas of trees. Here we allow grass and ‘weed species’ to develop and thrive, which when maintained alongside areas that are more frequently mown are both effective and pleasing to view.
“You can see great examples of this in Milford Park and Birchfield Park in Yeovil.”
Wildflowers growing near the Welcome to Yeovil sign
How are we encouraging the growth of wildflowers in our country parks like Ham Hill, Chard Reservoir and Yeovil Country Park?
Katy Menday: “Across the Country Parks and Local Nature Reserves we manage all land as pasture or meadow depending on its species content and/or the overall aims in terms of diversity and wildlife for that grassland.
“Certainly we keep cutting to an absolute minimum; so areas that are obviously best used as recreational space or where safety dictates that we need sight lines, for example emerging from car parks on Ham Hill, are where cutting will occur.
“Our teams always advocate enabling grass to grow where we can, and then facilitating a cut and removal of the cuttings to remove nutrients which encourages wildflowers to grow.
“This also reduces fuel use for mowers and has positive environmental impacts in that way. We also erect signs on the main verges at Ham Hill to stop highways contractors from cutting the wildflower rich verges. We then cut them later in the year once the flowers have set seed to encourage future growth.”
The signs which go up to protect the verges at Ham Hill
So will we see more wildflower meadows in South Somerset in the future?
Cllr Dyke said: “We want to develop wildflower meadows that have good quality content and offer a positive benefit to our biodiversity.
“We will continue to develop our open spaces to achieve this whilst continuing to provide a variety of open space styles suited to meet the whole range of user requirements so people can play safely and also enjoy nature.”