“Pollinator Landscaping, a Roadside Story?”
A talk by Leonardo Guber and Dan Field
Thursday 4th March 2021 via Zoom, with 31 participants.
Leo is Senior Ecologist with Highways England, based in Exeter. Dan recently retired from the same organisation specialising in land acquisition, highway law, and management training. Dan is a member of East Devon Beekeepers and it turns out that Leo has also kept bees in his youth and intends to take up the hobby again when he retires.
Roads and the Natural Environment
Leo stated that roads cut through virtually every terrestrial ecosystem in the world and have become a permanent part of the landscape. Understandably, roads have great ecological impact on the environment, often responsible for increased biodiversity loss around the world. Thus, road verges have attracted much attention as important areas of conservation and pollution mitigation.
The importance of road verges
Where main roads pass through farmed landscapes, the road verges may be the best quality habitat in the area, often with links to past landscapes, e.g. where old hedgerows border main roads. Verges tend to be relatively undisturbed and as will be shown later, verges can be of high aesthetic value.
The soft side of Highways England’s estate
The term ‘soft estate’ is used by road authorities to describe natural habitats adjacent to motorways and trunk roads. This amounts to 178,000ha in the UK, of which 30,000ha are in England, this region being managed by Highways England. The importance of road verges has gradually been going up on the agendas of both management and ecology since the 1960s, so what is the present-day situation?
Working with soft estate: what is out there?
To find out what is out there Leo uses a variety of techniques.
- Targeted surveys to inform environmental assessments and/or minimise the impact of planned operations.
- Desktop surveys to identify habitat boundaries of important sites and species recorded nearby.
- Drive-by surveys to identify areas that merit further investigation.
- Habitat and botanical surveys in areas of interest or that show potential.
- Soft estate conditions surveys.
- Ad hoc reports and inspections.
Constantly under attack!
The soft estate is constantly under attack. The list includes vehicle fires, litter, spillages, invasive species (ragwort, winter heliotrope, Japanese knot weed), plus a constant barrage of pollutants (zinc from tyres, cadmium from oil, salt from de-icing and nitrates from exhausts).
The Importance of road verges
The importance of road verges can be seen in a 2014 study by Plymouth University. Their surveys showed that bumblebee abundance in verges was more than twice that of field margins. Also, that species richness and abundance of flowers used by bumblebees was higher on roadside verges.
The Study statistics:
- Carried out in 42 different locations in Devon and Cornwall.
- In total, 866 taxa were recorded.
- These included: 32 different species of bees, 16 nationally scarce species, 4 species of principal importance and 1 endangered species.
Biodiversity Conservation Initiatives
The department have a simple method of species rich grassland creation. It uses the ‘whole crop’ or ‘green hay’ method whereby seed material from existing species-rich roadside verges are harvested and introduced at cleared, prepared sites where scrub and self-seeded trees had taken over the verges. The ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures show the effectiveness of this method and comments in the press!
A30 and Goss Moor Marsh Fritillary Project
This is a Highways England led project, in partnership with Natural England and Eden Project, aimed at creating biodiverse habitat along the A30 in Cornwall.
The Moor is one of the main breeding sites in England for the rare Marsh Fritillary butterfly. The long-term survival of the Marsh Fritillary is dependent on maintaining a suitable habitat. The best sites are open, unimproved, lightly-grazed grasslands with abundant patches of Devil’s-bit Scabious, the caterpillar’s only foodplant. Eden Project raised 10,000 plugs of Devil’s-bit Scabious which were successfully planted on Goss Moor.
HERE is the link to view the talk on YouTube.