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How 112 tiny Norfolk nature reserves are protecting rare plants after verge cutting scale back

PUBLISHED: 16:16 13 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:30 13 May 2019

One of the 112 roadside nature reserves in Norfolk. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

One of the 112 roadside nature reserves in Norfolk. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

Norfolk County Council

They are the 112 tiny Norfolk nature reserves you've probably never heard of, but they are playing a crucial role in protecting vulnerable plants.

Sulphur Clover at a roadside nature reserve. 

Credit: Norfolk Wildlife Trust.Sulphur Clover at a roadside nature reserve. Credit: Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

Norfolk County Council's decision to scale back the cutting of grass verges was controversial, but the council says the move to save money is also saving rare species.

The council has, for the past decade, been creating roadside nature reserves, maintained in partnership with Norfolk Wildlife Trust, which are cut once a year - usually in or around September.

Rare species, such as crested cow-wheat, sulphur clover and Breckland speedwell are protected in those 112 reserves, while verges are also designated for toad migratory routes and rare fungi.

Norfolk County Council has just started its verge cutting programme, with verges along the majority of the 11,000 roads which County Hall is responsible for cut twice between May and September.

Sandy Sitltball fungus. Pic: Norfolk County Council.Sandy Sitltball fungus. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

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Martin Wilby, the council's cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport, said: "We only cut verges for safety reasons, not appearance.

"Safety will always be a top priority on our roads and making sure verges are cut for visibility every year is a vital piece of the work we do to keep our roads safe.

"I'm very proud of the work we've been doing over more than 20 years to support the now 112 roadside nature reserves we have across the county."

Martin Wilby, cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.Martin Wilby, cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.

Mr Wilby said a real success story had been the sulphur clover project, where the council has worked with Norfolk Wildlife Trust and the Norfolk Farming and Wildlife Group to increase the number of sites the rare plant grows.

Mr Wilby said: "For over 10 years sulphur clover seed has been harvested from roadside nature reserves, and with the help of landowners the seed has been given new homes on the clay soils of South Norfolk where the plant can grow well."

Helen Baczkowska, Norfolk Wildlife Trust conservation officer, said: "As wildflower rich grasslands have become rarer in the wider countryside, roadside verges today have increased importance as refuges for plants which have declined elsewhere.

"The grassland and hedgerows along our road networks also play a vital role as corridors for wildlife to move along and help connect our increasingly isolated 'islands' of good habitat where wildlife still thrives."

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