Insect pollinators are vital for life on earth, but their populations are experiencing declines across the world; largely due to the loss and fragmentation of habitats. Buglife, the insect conservation charity, has found that road verges can provide important habitats for these insects providing they are managed in the right way. When we took over mowing many of the verges in the 30mph roads in Chesham in 2016, we started working with the Chesham & District Natural History Society to give our local pollinators a helping hand. The aim is to develop a network of habitats across town, creating more space for nature in our urban environment.
A year-long trial was started in 2017 on 6 sites (including verges and town council owned open spaces) to see how changing the mowing regime from regular cuts to a once-yearly cut could help our local insects. The sites were carefully selected so that the longer vegetation wouldn’t restrict the vision of motorists or pedestrians. The key management change was the removal of grass cuttings after the annual cut. This reduces the amount of nutrients in the soil and helps to promote a richer, more varied flora. In turn, this provides more resources for insects such as bees.
Above: A red-tailed bumblebee
Whilst a couple of the verge sites weren’t successful, the majority were; and on these sites the results were startling. Fifty-five wildflower species were recorded, plus a number of grasses. This included a bee orchid on one of the roadside verges. Twenty species of insects were spotted, including bumblebees, moths, butterflies, hoverflies, beetles and ants. Due to this success, the council decided to permanently manage these sites for wildlife and trial a further 6 sites in 2018. Signs were installed to explain why these sites were being looked after in a different way. The summer of 2018 was very dry, and it was very noticeable that the longer swards coped much better with the dry conditions than grass that was routinely mown and a good variety of plants and insects were recorded on the sites. The project has continued into 2019 and new sites are being investigated. We have also recorded a pyramidal orchid on one of our verges for the first time in 2019.
Below: A bee orchid growing in a verge
Roads or sites that have areas which are being managed for wildlflowers are:
White Hill/Broadlands Avenue
Codmore Playing Field
Chalk Dell on Nashleigh Hill
St Mary's Churchyard
Berkhampstead Field Community Meadow