Over recent months, volunteers have been out in force surveying roadside verges in south-west Lincolnshire, Rutland and east Leicestershire as part of the “Life on the Verge” project. Amongst the 420km of verge surveyed by 75 volunteers this summer, some have been found that are of high conservation value for wild flowers and other wildlife. 25 verges (approximately 50km) have so far been discovered with a good range of special indicator wild flowers growing on them. These are the flowers, such as greater knapweed, clustered bellflower and small scabious, which show that a verge is supporting a high biodiversity on a limestone soil.
Project Officer, Mark Schofield, explained why it was essential that these flower-rich verges were found: "The project area lies in an area that at one time had some of the richest grasslands in the country. These grasslands are highly diverse with many different flower species growing in them but they are an endangered and fragmented habitat. Road verges represent a vital opportunity to link the few remaining patches of grassland across the landscape. A well cared for network of verges will act as green corridors that help plants and animals move as they need to in the face of climate change and disturbance. Once the verges that still retain lots of wild flowers are identified, we can begin to manage them appropriately with the resources available to us."
The survey season will be drawing to a close over the next few weeks, and hay cutting and seed collection has now begun.
Mark continued "If left completely to nature, grassland habitat would be maintained as a patchwork across the landscape by roaming herds of wild cattle, horse and deer. Now that we have enclosed stock behind fences, this can no longer happen and instead hay-cutting is the only option for roadside conservation. An important element in managing grassland for wildlife is to cut late in the season and to remove the cuttings. This allows flowers to set seed and prevents the soil becoming too fertile which favours only the faster growing grasses."
Making hay on roadsides presents a practical challenge. Tree stumps, steep banks and hidden ditches are all obstacles which need to be overcome. The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust has invested in two pedestrian tractors and a mini-bailer which can cope with these inaccessible conditions.
If you see any small round hay bails on roadsides over the coming months, these will be available at no cost for forage for your own animals. Please give us a call at the Wildlife Trust if you wish to help yourself or if you are interested in a large amount. We are taking care to eliminate ragwort before we cut and pick out any litter before we bail.
Free wild flower identification classes and field trips were held at several sites throughout Lincolnshire and Rutland on the weekends of June. Over 70 beginner botanists attended and a third went on to become volunteer surveyors. More lectures and classes are planned for next year between May and July.