Working with nature to cut verge maintenance costs

Posted on 29 June 2012 by Dorset County Council

The innovative approach to verges along the side of the Weymouth Relief Road is already having remarkable benefits, according to the county’s leading ecologist.

The last of the 125,000 trees, shrubs and marginal plants to be planted along the Weymouth Relief Road, which went in this spring, are growing well thanks to the wettest April on record and plenty of rain ever since. Butterflies, including the country’s smallest resident butterfly, are already moving in, demonstrating the wildlife benefits of this approach to verges.

The three year planting programme has replanted ten times the area of trees and shrubs that were lost during construction. Six hectares of bare chalk have been transformed into wildflower areas using local seeds so they tie in with the surrounding landscape.

More trees and shrubs have also been planted at the Mount Pleasant park and ride site, which has been redesigned to help reduce future maintenance costs. Work has now started on a five year maintenance programme to ensure the recently planted trees and shrubs get established.

County ecologist Dr Phil Sterling said:

“Our in-house grounds services workforce and contractors Knighton Countryside Management have worked extremely hard to complete the planting before the Olympics. In the past, we always put 30cm of topsoil on all verges when we reinstated them after an improvement scheme. Whilst the ground greens up quickly with that depth of soil, the grass needs regular cutting to keep it under control and we create ourselves a maintenance liability forever. In some places on the Weymouth Relief Road, we have used much less topsoil than this or none at all.

“The early results are remarkable. On the main cuttings through the Ridgeway we have reduced our maintenance costs over a wide area to virtually nil. We have over 20 species of wildflower thriving and four species of butterfly are now breeding there, including the very local Small Blue, which feeds on the yellow Kidney Vetch.

“So this type of reinstatement has two benefits; it is good for wildlife and looks spectacular when the flowers are out and, once established, the verges require much less maintenance in the long term. The downside is that in the short term the verges may look ‘unfinished’ or scruffy – but after a year or two the benefits are clear.

“We will use the lessons learnt from the landscape methods we have tried on the Weymouth Relief Road to promote more sustainable management practices across our grounds and premises. They won’t be appropriate everywhere, but in these times of financial constraints we will be cutting verges less than previously, and we need to consider how we can work with nature to cut our maintenance costs.”

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2 Comments For This Post

  1. helen carr Says:

    Re: working with nature to cut verge maintenance costs.

    Sadly, this year, the beautiful poppies which gave us such a wonderful display in 2011 along the relief road, have been strimmed. Personally, I have been nurturing a small area of self-set poppies near Southdown Bridge. Just as they were about to bloom, they were strimmed to the ground, destroying the plants. As poppies rely on self propogation of the previous season’s seeds, they are probably gone forever. Is it possible that the contractors could be offered some awareness of wild flowers so that we might protect them for others to enjoy ?

  2. Dorset County Council Says:

    Hi Helen, thanks for contacting us. Poppies are a bit unusual as they require disturbed soil to germinate. After any highway maintenance scheme involving soil disturbance, they pop up and will disappear a few years later as the ground closes over until the next time there is bare soil, which may be decades later.

    We don’t specifically manage verges for poppies, they just appear wherever. If they happen to be within the cut area, they may get cut or strimmed. This is probably what happened on the relief road. It wouldn’t be practical or cost-effective to ensure the contractors carefully strim around particular wildflowers – even though in an ideal world this might be nice. The poppies probably won’t have died; the current flowering stems will have been removed, but the rosettes should still be intact and should put up new flowering stems in a few weeks, and the flowering period is likely to be extended until the early autumn.

    The good news is that conservationists including Butterfly Conservation are very pleased with what has been appearing along beside the relief road, so you’re not the only person to be keeping an eye on it! Thanks again for your comments.

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