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PMcS 2006

 

Road Verges


Road verges provide many of us with our only regular window to the wildlife year as we zoom past in our cars.  Since the recent abandonment of herbicide application to control 'weeds' (quite right too!), road verges have prospered and have become havens for plants, insects, mammals and many birds.

   
 

oxeye daisies

 

The occasional cutting that verges experience emulates hay meadow management, and where are subject to sustained rabbit grazing this creates pasture like conditions.  These factors, along with the lack of fertilisers, allows wildflowers to thrive.  Also combined with hedgerows they form something approaching the feel of a woodland edge.  Road verges create great corridors for wildlife which are packed with interest and are zones where people rarely venture.

   
 

roadside flowers

 

Each month can support very different groups of flowers.  The very earliest signs of life in early Spring are the emergence of the rather beautiful winter heliotrope leaves and flowers starts off the race to flower and reproduce early in the year. In March cowslips can line motorway banks where the grass is short.  Cuckoo flowers and then bluebells follow in April and May, with oxeye daisy, small scabious and black knapweed in later months.  In dry calcareous positions an almost Mediterranean verge can form in mid summer made up of scented herbs such as  marjoram and wild basil with ladies bedstraw.

   
 

'Mediterranean' verge

 

Greater stitchwort is often the first of the showy flowers emerging in April.  It can be prolific and form dense white and green clumps lining the road for meters.  On some verges flowers normally associated with woodland edges such as red campion and yellow archangel thrive.  These are often joined by white deadnettle and speedwells.

   
 

foxgloves on a roadside bank

 

On acidic soils purple spikes of foxgloves line the road edges with wall pennyworts hugging dry stone walls.  Meadow cranesbill emerges in clumps of purple flowers and downy segmented leaves where there are open spaces of shorter grassland, as does the tall, long, glossy horse radish leaves. A later group often seen together includes wild carrot, common mallow and hawkweed ox-tongue.  Clumps of common toadflax, lesser bindweed and fleabane can often make a splash of colour towards the end of summer.  Any number of other flowers and grasses also find a foot hold.

   
 

greater stitchwort

 

Where the verge is not cut early cow parsley is often the most prolific flower of early summer with giant hogweed and sometimes ferns emerging later.   The main grasses found are false-oat grass and cock's foot with creeping buttercups, dandelion and nettles when cutting is rarely carried out.

Where there has been disturbance rosebay willowherb can form dense thickets.

   
 

rosebay willowherb

 

The most common shrub is hawthorn which supports spectacular shows of may blossom in spring, which in turn provides haws (berries) in autumn loved by thrushes and blackbirds.

   
 

a track in spring

 

The long grass is the home of shrews, field voles and other small mammals, and this in turn encourages predatory kestrals, often seen hovering by the road side.  Barn owls also find this to be a good source of food, as does the increasingly common buzzard.  Roads, however, are also one of the biggest hazards to our wildlife and unfortunately thousands badgers, foxes and hedgehogs annually fall victim to speeding cars.
 
   
 

a roadside onlooker

 

 

All images and text are copyright PMcS 2006