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Management of highway grass verges

In 2020 the council finalised the Climate Emergency Strategy and Air Quality Action Plan, in which both detail an ambition to beat climate change and reduce air pollution. The Parks Team has always been environmentally focused, with the conservation of ecology at the heart of how we deliver our service. However, with a local climate emergency being declared, we now have an exciting opportunity to identify and explore new environmentally sympathetic ways of working.

About the management of highway grass verges

Highway grass verges are located throughout the Borough and are one of the most visual green public amenities. Previously all highway grass verges were managed between a height of 15mm to 70mm with all arisings left which inhibited the growth of native flowering plants, increased soil nutrient levels and stimulated vigorous growth for coarse grasses. The Parks Team believes that highway grass verges have significant potential and that by introducing an environmentally sympathetic approach to maintenance we can:

  • Increase biodiversity
  • Improve habitats for native flora and fauna
  • Reduce our carbon footprint
  • Improve air quality

New Maintenance Regimes

From Spring 2021 the Parks Team will be introducing three different maintenance regimes to the highway grass verges and implementing them where appropriate;

  • Conservation cut: one cut and collect at the end of the growing season
  • Rural cut: three cuts per year (cut and collect where necessary)
  • Urban cut: monthly cut throughout growing season (six to seven cuts a year)

Conservation Cut

The conservation cut meets all criteria of our objectives:

  • Increase habitat for pollinators
  • Increase the biodiversity of flora and fauna
  • Reduce our carbon footprint
  • Improve air quality

The conservation cut will consist of a single cut and collect per year, usually carried out in early September (depending on growing and climate conditions). This maintenance regime is beneficial for the following reasons;

  • Many native plants present on the highway grass verges are annual (grown from seed, produce seed in one year and die). The conservation cut provides annual plants the opportunity to complete their lifecycles and subsequently increase in population
  • Increase in flowering native plants provides improved food source for pollinators
  • The collection of arising’s (cuttings) after the plants have completed their lifecycles removes nutrients from the soil, slowing the growth of competitive coarse grasses. It also allows more light and air native flowering plants, therefore improving their chances of success
  • Autumn can be warm and wet, which is ideal for grass growth. Removal of this late flush of grass can improve conditions for native flowering plants by reducing the competition for space and light

Rural Cut

The rural cut may not be as environmentally beneficial as the conservation cut, but it still meets some of our primary objectives:

  • Reduce our carbon footprint
  • Improve air quality

The Rural cut would typically only require two cuts, one in mid-spring (April/May) and one in late-summer (August/September). However, a third cut would also be carried out - if needed - in the winter (January/December).

Where possible arisings would be collected, but this would depend on growing conditions and the amount of arisings. For example, it may not be necessary to remove arising’s on the winter cut, however the spring cut would need arisings removed as this is when competitive coarse grasses put on a lot of growth before they seed.

This maintenance regime is beneficial for the following reasons:

  • The increased cutting height will benefit some of our common native flowering plants, which are low growing and will continue to provide a food resource to pollinators as they will miss being cut
  • More time between cuts allows taller native flowering plants the opportunity to develop and provide food for pollinators before they are cut
  • Improved soil health and reduced compaction increases the resilience of highway grass verges to drought and flooding, subsequently reducing the impact this may also have to people and property.
  • A ‘halfway-house’ maintenance regime, that will hopefully allow more highway grass verges to adopt the conservation cut regime over time

Urban Cut      

The urban cut is not environmentally focused, but by reducing the cutting regime it can help us to reduce our carbon footprint.

Our reason for this approach

This new environmentally sympathetic approach to managing the highway grass verges is being introduced to help the council achieve its Climate Emergency Strategy and Air Quality Action Plan.

This is not a cost cutting exercise, the council is working differently, not less. Equipment needed to cut longer grass costs considerably more, however the environmental gains far outweigh this cost.

Find out what category the verge outside your property is in

Use our mapping system to find which management category the verge outside your home falls under.

 

Updated: 15 June 2021