Wildflowers living life on the edge

Laura White
Laura White
Pyramidal orchid on the verge in Dorset (photo © Dominic Murphy)

Moor Meadows Dartmoor is a community group established in 2015, whose aim is to help each other in conserving, restoring and creating wildflower meadows, on any scale, in the landscape of Dartmoor.

Moor Meadows Dartmoor has set up the online Meadow Makers’ Forum to help with the formation of new groups across Devon.

More Meadows is the umbrella name for the network of new meadows groups being established in different parts of Devon, all sharing information via the new Meadow Makers’ Forum: https://forum.moremeadows.org.uk

More Meadows is now asking that people get more involved with maintaining roadside verges for wildlife.

Road verges have the potential to be one of the most important wildflower habitats in Devon, if more local people get involved in how they are managed. From country lanes to busy dual carriageways, the grassy verges beside much of Devon’s 14,000 kilometre road network make up around 2,000 hectares of grassland habitat.
They can offer a rainbow of colour, spilling over with flowers and rich with wildlife.

Given the loss of 97% of wildflower-rich meadows from the countryside since the 1930s, these grassy margins are vital spaces for wild plants, including rare wildflowers lost from the wider landscape.

Despite the nearby traffic, road verges can be a haven for insects, birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Almost half of the UK’s wildflower species have been recorded growing on roadside verges.

They can provide sources of nectar to bees, butterflies and other insects throughout the growing season from the earliest flowering plants such as celandines in the last weeks of winter to the September blooms of Devil’s bit scabious.
Tracey Hamston, of More Meadows, explained the importance of road verges and how Devon residents can get involved in managing local verges to benefit wildflowers and wildlife.

She said: “Since 2015, every Parish Council in Devon has the opportunity to take on the responsibility for managing its road verges from Devon County Council.

Due to budget cuts, Devon County Council stopped managing roadside verges, including previously designated ‘special verges’, where speed limits are 40mph and below, except for areas where visibility is compromised. Some Town and Parish Councils have taken on the responsibility for managing their own verges but the majority have not.

‘If wildlife is to thrive again, we need to create and restore a network of biodiverse habitats across the country, including restoring and creating wildflower meadows on appropriate roadside verges.”

Thanks to habitat restoration work already carried out by the Highways Agency, major Devon roads like the A38 feature verges rich in wildflowers. At the height of summer, one of England’s rarest flowers, the Deptford pink, can be seen flowering in profusion on grassy banks next to the A38 between Ashburton and Buckfastleigh, augmenting the journeys of residents and visitors with their vivid pink blooms.

But verges beside minor roads and B roads in every Devon parish can be havens for wildflowers and wildlife, if parish and town councils have the best management plan in place.

Tracey Hamston added: “Imagine if there was at least one special verge in every Devon town or parish that was managed for its wild plants and wildlife, what a difference that would begin to make.”

Local Life