In a boost to diversity, Highways England's scheme to encourage species-rich grasslands could create hundreds of miles of rare habitats after decades of loss.
This wonderfully good news follows the success of projects like the Weymouth Relief Road in Dorset, where native wildflowers have thrived on chalk verges. Remarkably, the area is now home to half of the butterflies in the UK, including the small blue, Britain’s smallest. The roadsides require minimal maintenance, and large sections have not been cut in 10 years since wildflower seeds were sown, which has also reduced costs.
“Verges will look different under this approach. They’ll be a lot more natural looking. It wouldn’t just be rye grass. It’s going to be more varied and colourful. And hopefully a lot more vibrant,” said Ben Hewlett, Highways England environmental adviser. “It’s potentially hundreds of miles of new schemes. There’ll be all over the country and provide ecological connectivity across the network.”
Highways England says the new policy would only apply to larger new projects at first - around 300 miles of road - but the company aims to extend the initiative to pre-existing roads.
Under the new low nutrient grasslands policy, Highways England contractors will be obliged to create conditions for species-rich grasslands to thrive using low fertility soils with chalk and limestone bases. The verges will then be allowed to regenerate naturally or be seeded with wildflowers.