Dr Anne Readshaw, a member of our volunteer Policy Committee, explores why wildflower verges are so important in the Dales, and how to protect them

How many drivers have time to notice what’s growing by the side of the road? Well, more than you might think, actually. The charity Plantlife has so far (May 2020) gathered over 105,000 signatures, in support of its latest campaign to save wild flowers on road verges.

Here in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, we have hundreds of miles of roadside verges. In spring and summer, they provide displays of colourful wild flowers, against the back-drop of our drystone walls, forming an integral part of the verdant Dales landscape.

Roadside verges are not just there to be admired by passing travellers, though. Verges that have lots of different plants growing in them support lots of different insects, which in turn support all manner of other wildlife. Very often, the biodiversity that has been lost from nearby agricultural fields over the course of the last few decades only remains in these precious strips of ‘no-man’s land’ bordering the Tarmac.

However, road verge habitats are increasingly under threat. Pollution from car exhausts is only part of the problem – poorly-timed cutting regimes are the main culprit. If plants are cut back before they are allowed to set seed, then most of them will not be able to grow next year. Over time, this leads to a decline in the abundance of flowering plants in our roadside verges and a corresponding loss of biodiversity.

In the Yorkshire Dales, responsibility for cutting the roadside verges is divided between different councils, with North Yorkshire County Council looking after the lion’s share. NYCC policy states that environmental considerations must be taken into account when balancing cutting priorities, recognising that road verges are important for wildlife. However, in practice, we have observed that the verges are frequently cut at entirely the wrong times, to the detriment of special wild flowers, such as orchids and melancholy thistle. Often, this cannot be justified on safety grounds.

Here at Friends of the Dales, we have recently launched a Roadside Verges campaign of our own, focussing on the Yorkshire Dales. We are guided by Plantlife’s advice and are in discussions with the authorities responsible for verge cutting.

We would very much welcome any information (good or bad!) about verges in the Dales, with cutting dates, location details, wildlife sightings and photographs if you have them. Please post your pictures on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #Dalesverges, or email Ann Shadrake, Executive Director. 

Read more about Plantlife’s campaign