Why do we need wildflower areas?
We’ve lost about 97% of our wildflower meadows since the 1950s. If we want our native British wildflowers and plants to survive they need a place to grow.
Lawns, road verges and other areas can all offer space for our wildflowers. These flowers provide much needed food and habitat for our insects, especially pollinators like bees and butterflies that we rely upon to grow our crops. The insects in turn support birds, bats and other small mammals. At a time when many of our wildlife species are under threat of extinction, wildflower areas are a simple and effective way to increase biodiversity. They are also able to sequester more carbon than closely cropped grass as well as creating a beautiful display of colour throughout the year that is more resilient to drought and hot weather.
How to create a wildflower area
The aim is to allow wildflowers to grow, blossom and drop their seeds before mowing.
Reduce cuts to once or twice a year. Cut in late summer and then again either before Christmas or in early spring to allow the full lifecycle of the plants. During the first year, areas may need to three cuts to keep the grass in check – simply mow when the grass gets too thick and coarse and strangles the wildflowers.
Always remove the cuttings to lower the fertility of the soil. Wildflowers need low nutrients in the soil and space for the seeds to germinate. If the cuttings are left to rot down, they will fertilise the soil and result in vigorous grass that will overtake the wildflowers. As the soil becomes less fertile in time, it will slow down the growth of the grass and allow wildflowers to flourish.
Avoid seeding if possible. Native wildflowers will return once the soil fertility is reduced. This ensures that that the plants that grow are resilient and part of the local eco system. If buying seeds, try to obtain from local sources. Yellow rattle plants are a good place to start. They are semi-parasitic and will grow on grass roots to help reduce their spread and create space for wildflowers to grow.
More and more counties across the UK are using their road verges to create spaces for wildflowers and seeing significant biodiversity gains as a result. Plantlife is an environmental charity and has published an extensive wildflower verge management guide for councils here https://plantlife.love-wildflowers.org.uk/roadvergecampaign/management-guidelines
In Wiltshire the county council is responsible for managing rural verges and most urban road verges too.
Rural road verges in Wiltshire
These are managed by the Highways department. They are cut once a year but the cuttings are left behind. When Wiltshire council was asked to consider implementing the Plantlife guidelines on rural verges in 2020, the council replied.
‘The council this year is undertaking a number of wildflower trials to the Plantlife guidance. The council currently cuts rural areas once per annum, moving to the Plantlife guidance will require additional traffic movements and greater carbon production in rural areas.’
However, councils like Dorset have created wildflower verges according to Plantlife’s guidance. Their solution to dealing with the cuttings doesn’t create more traffic emissions. They heap the cuttings into isolated piles under hedges, trees and scrub at the back of the verge. This creates the right conditions for wildflowers to grow and is much tidier than leaving the cuttings to blow around everywhere.
Urban road verges
These are managed by the Streetscene department via a contractor. They are cut 9 times a year from March – November but the cuttings are left behind. The contract to mow the verges is up for renewal in November 2022.
These are also managed by Streetscene. They have access to one tractor which is based in Trowbridge. The tractor is heavy and cumbersome. This means only areas that are large, flat and free of any obstructions like trees or lampposts are suitable for the trial.
What can we do to introduce wildflower verges throughout Wiltshire?
Ask our Wiltshire councillors to support;
a trial of rural verge management following Dorset’s example of heaping the cuttings into neat piles
the inclusion of cut and collect services in the new contract for urban verges
What can we do to introduce wildflower areas in our town or village?
Talk to our parish councillors about the benefits of wildflowers and build up support amongst your local residents. Town councils will probably be responsible for places like parks. Ask them to consider introducing wildflower areas.
One option is a Service Delegation Asset Transfer. Parish councils can apply for this. If accepted Wiltshire council permanently transfers over the responsibility for assets of land but without extra funding. If your local council has done this or is considering this, they will be responsible for managing the road verges.
Town councils or adjacent landowners can also apply for Section 96 license to take on the responsibility for managing verges. This applies to verges or open space next to roads. The license is valid for 3 or 7 years and it can specify which verges it includes.
Anyone can apply for a Gardener’s license to manage land that is owned by Wiltshire council which isn’t next to a road.
The Estates Department is responsible for managing the licenses and for enquiries about the Service Delegation Asset Transfer.
Would you like to see more wildflower areas in Royal Wootton Bassett and our county? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more. #RWBWildflowers