A scheme to establish wildflower verges is to be piloted by Devon County Council.

The County Council is working with Devon Wildlife Trust on a pilot project aiming to enhance areas of roadside verges in order to help reverse the decline of wildflowers and pollinating insects.

A handful of sites have been chosen in the Ottery St Mary area for the trial. Seeds of plant species such as Yellow Rattle, which is an annual flower that discourages grass growth and encourages wildflower growth, will be sown with a variety of other wildflower seeds on the selected verges next month.

Not only would the wildflowers provide attractive displays but would also help to encourage bees, butterflies and other insects populations to recover. The knock-on effect of more wildflowers may also reduce the abundance of grass which could reduce the amount of grass cutting required.

This joint initiative adds to Devon County Council’s existing policy on maintaining highway verges which classifies some sites across the county as “special verges” where there is flora and fauna of local or national interest.

Councillor Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Highway Maintenance, said: “Maintaining roadside verges has to strike a delicate balance between conserving the environment and ensuring safety on our roads. The County Council has a good track record when it comes to protecting our environment; for example the conservation group Plantlife highlighted our work earlier this year as a good example of looking after wild flowers on roadside verges.

This pilot is another positive step forwards and further sites are being considered in other parts of the county. If successful, the scheme could be established right across Devon.”

The wildflowers would be no higher than 20cm, which is in line with highways visibility guidelines, and highways officers and local councillors would be asked to monitor verges to ensure that flowers are flourishing but not growing too high.

Councillor Claire Wright, local County Councillor for Ottery St Mary Rural, said: “When I saw the state of nature report on Channel 4 News earlier this year, it was obvious that unless action is taken, something catastropic is going to happen to our eco-systems and I was determined to do something to help. I booked a meeting with the conservation officer from Devon Wildlife Trust and myself and Pete Burgess came up with the proposal between us. I knew it had to cost very little or be cost neutral to be accepted, given the state of council budgets.  Officers have been really positive about the proposal, as has the Cabinet Member for Highways – I can’t wait to see how the verges look next summer!”

Devon Wildlife Trust conservation manager, Peter Burgess said: “This is a truly exciting project. The network of verges across Devon is outstanding for our wildlife and this project has the ability to make them even better. Many verges just have one or two flowers, the grass is always growing and needs to be managed – at great cost. Through careful seeding we are confident that grasses would be replaced by stunning displays of wild flowers – this would not only look stunning and be great for wildlife, but it may also reduce the need to cut so frequently.”

Residents who live near the pilot verges in Ottery St Mary, West Hill and Tipton St John have expressed support for the proposals having been informed of the pilot and given the opportunity to comment.

The verges are:
West Hill – on the corner of West Hill Road and School Lane
Tipton St John – at Barton Paddocks, near the Golden Lion and adjacent to the large ash tree
Ottery St Mary – south of Claremont Field, on the road between Tip Hill and Wiggaton

Photograph courtesy of Devon Wildlife Trust:  How the flowers are likely to look, as the seed mixture will be very similar.