Road Verge Biodiversity
There are approximately 5500km of surfaced roads in Powys and the associated road verges provide a valuable habitat for many species.
Road verges are often the remains of the habitats which once surrounded them and support nearly half of the UK's wildflower meadow species, which is crucial since the UK has lost 97% of its meadows since the 1930s.
Many rare and threatened plant species can be found in the verges, these provide food for pollinators and other insects, which in turn provide food for birds and other animals. Not all road verges are meadow habitats, some support important woodland, hedgerow, and heathland habitats. Road verges also help to improve people's wellbeing, allowing people to connect with nature during their daily commute.
Road Verge Management
As the Highways Authority, Powys County Council is responsible for verge management to ensure the roads remain open and safe to use. We try to balance the safety of highway users with the biodiversity value of road verges. We also have a statutory duty to maintain and enhance biodiversity under Section 6 of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016.
Trunk roads are the responsibility of Welsh Government and are managed by the North & Mid Wales Trunk Road Agency (NMWTRA). Powys County Council acts as a contractor for NMWTRA and so manage the trunk road verges as instructed by them. If you have any concerns about trunk road verges then please report this to the NMWTRA.
We have two regimes of maintenance on county roads:
- In urban areas (areas with speed limits) we carry out three cuts. Our urban verge management has recently been altered so that much more of the verge is left uncut on the first and second cuts with only a single swathe being cut, except where visibility is required. This allows the plant species to flower, providing food and habitat for pollinators and other species.
- In rural areas (national speed limit) we carry out one cut of a single swathe per year, except where visibility is required.
Road Verge Nature Reserves
On top of the verge cutting regimes above, we also have over 100 Road Verge Nature Reserves (RVNRs) which are managed separately. A RVNR is a length of road verge that has been identified as having particular value to biodiversity. These verges may support protected and nationally and/or locally important species or support a diverse range of plant species. These verges are subsequently managed in a specific way, informed by the three Wildlife Trusts in Powys, with the aim of conserving and enhancing the species of interest.
Hedgerows on Verges
The cutting of existing hedgerows is the responsibility of the landowner or occupier. This includes hedges alongside a public highway. Powys County Council may cut some hedgerows to maintain access along a highway, if this has not already been done by the landowner. This usually only affects hedgerow growth extending into the highway, or where the hedge is blocking road signs. To protect nesting birds (and comply with the law) we recommend that hedges are not cut between March and August. See the RSPB website for more information on hedge cutting and the law.
Following best practice guidance
We are continuing to alter our verge management following Plantlife's Good Verge Guide. This includes applying for a Welsh Government Local Places for Nature grant which has allowed us to purchase appropriate machinery to start using cut and collect management on some of our grassland verges, which will encourage wildflower species to grow (please note that it will take time for wild flowers to reappear naturally on the verges). We will be using the cuttings, known as 'arisings', to create habitat piles on the verges.
It is not possible to create habitat piles on every verge, particularly on urban verges, and so we would have to dispose of the arisings from these verges. Whilst money has been saved by reducing the frequency of verge cutting over the past few years, there are significant costs involved with transporting and disposing of the arisings appropriately. As a result, we are not currently able to use cut and collect on all verges. Additional resources would be required to develop a practical, and cost-effective scheme to dispose of the arisings and we are working with Powys Nature Partnership to find a solution to this.
How can I help?
There are increasing numbers of community groups, Town and Community Councils, and other local organisations approaching Powys County Council asking if they can help to improve biodiversity on their urban verges and we have been encouraging them to do so. Many groups do this by raking off and disposing of the arisings after the verges have been cut, monitoring the improvements in biodiversity and wildflowers.
Some communities have also taken this a step further, taking over management of their verges and/or sowing native wildflowers on any verges.
If you are interested in helping to manage your local verges, we would suggest liaising with your Town or Community Council first to gain their support. Please then email the Powys Nature Partnership Officer with your proposal. Please be aware that wildflowers often reappear on verges naturally when given chance to spread. However, if you are planning to speed up this process then we will only support proposals which will be using native wildflower seeds, plugs, or green hay. These should also be locally sourced, where possible. We do have to take health and safety into consideration so we may not allow you to work on certain verges.
Bee Friendly Communities
It is important to recognise that although road verges play an important part in supporting biodiversity, on their own they cannot compensate for the large-scale loss of wildflower meadows and flower-rich grassland habitats. Everyone has a role to play in restoring and creating additional suitable habitat on their own land. You can also support pollinators in your area by becoming a 'Bee Friendly Community'. Visit the Wales Biodiversity Partnership website for more information.