Roadside verges play vital role in preserving county’s wildlife
Volunteers and parish council groups are being urged to help make roadside verges across Suffolk havens for wildlife.
That was one of the messages to come out of a national conservation conference held in Ipswich at the weekend.
The day-long event at Wherstead Park was organised by the Suffolk Naturalists' Society and saw speakers from across the country talk about the importance of these strips of land and hedgerow that run alongside the road network.
One presenter was Kate Petty, the road verge campaign manager for Plantlife, a wild flower conservation charity, who said because 97% of the UK's wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s, roadside verges are now seen as vital areas for native plants to grow and as habitat for pollinating insects and other small creatures.
She said 700 wildflower species - around 45% of our native flowers - can be found on road verges.
In Suffolk there are 107 designated Roadside Nature Reserves, which account for 38kms of the county's roadsides. They are managed specifically for wildlife, which typically involves cutting the verges less and at specific times to allow wildflowers to seed and for insects to lay their eggs. Crucially, cut grass has to be removed from the verges to create the right conditions for wildflowers to grow.
Speaking to the EADT at the event, Suffolk County Council's head of natural environment, Tim De Kreyze said the authority is keen expand its Community Self-Help scheme, where parish groups clear footpaths and clean roadside signs, to include more volunteers managing verges with wildlife in mind.
"Many pollinating species are declining and we are looking for people to help us develop the right structures and habitats to create sustainable ecosystems where insects can thrive," said Mr De Kreyze, who added that the authority is currently trialling wildlife-friendly road verge management techniques at Snape and Copdock.
Just what can be achieved became clear from a presentation by Mark Schofield, conservation manager at the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, which, working alongside its county council, has surveyed half its roadside verges, designated over 150 Local Wildlife Sites and conducted studies to show the grass cuttings could be used as fuel to provide gas for over 1,000 homes in the county.
Martin Sanford, manager at the Suffolk Biodiversity Service, who helped organise the well-attended event, said classic wild plants for Suffolk verges are sulphur clover and crested cow wheat, which do well on the boulder clay meadow habitats in west Suffolk.
Both plants are scarce nationally and so Suffolk has "a special responsibility to look after them and try and increase numbers," he said.