Successful rural road grass cutting trial, to be extended for another 12 months district-wide to allow rewilding

Last year a trial was undertaken to leave sections of rural road verges in central Braintree uncut until the autumn, in a new environmentally friendly trial.

Last year Braintree District Council and Essex County Council undertook a trial to leave sections of rural road verges in central Braintree uncut until the autumn, in a new environmentally friendly trial.

It is recognised that rural roadside verges are important ecological corridors and havens for wildlife, home to many common and rare species of wildflowers, bringing a contribution to improve sustainability, biodiversity conservation and resilience to climate change. Environmental charities including Plantlife and Keep Britain Tidy have been campaigning for rural roadside verges to be sensitively managed and protected, but without compromising the highway safety of road users. In order to achieve the desired results, a different approach to the traditional way of maintaining verges needed to be considered.

Working in partnership with Essex County Council as the Highways Authority, a selection of roads were deemed suitable for the verges to be cut just once a year, as opposed to twice. Leaving the verges uncut in the spring, helped to protect the natural habitat, conserve wildflowers and grasses and increase pollinating insects.

At the end of last year Braintree District Council invited all Town and Parish Councils, including County and District Members, to complete a feedback survey.  All areas, whether involved in the trial or not were asked to comment, so a balanced view could be taken into consideration to help influence and shape the future of the grass cutting programme, and in particular the number of cuts for this current year. The feedback showed positive perceptions that a rewilding approach enhanced the appearance of local areas as well as creating a more sustainable environment without compromising road/public safety.  Based on the recommendations proposed by Braintree District Council, Essex County Council is in agreement for the programme to be rolled-out across the district, of undertaking a single cut of the verges as being the way forward for this year. A further consultation will be held towards the end of year to evaluate if a single cut will become the permanent approach.

Cllr Wendy Schmitt, Cabinet Member for Environment & Place said: “I am absolutely delighted that we are now in a position to extend the trail to more verges across our district, as preserving habitats like these is something that has been a heartfelt ambition of mine for many years. Reducing the grass verge cutting from twice yearly to a single cut brings many benefits. The approach is a more sustainable way of managing and maintaining rural verges, protecting their value for biodiversity and conservation. These wildlife corridors will give nature a chance for common and rare species of plants, insects and animals to flourish, as well as the environmental benefit in a reduction in emissions from the amount of fuel used to cut the verges.  All of these actions, when put together, will help to tackle the climate change crisis and is an action that both Councils can do.”

Councillor Kevin Bentley, Deputy Leader of Essex County Council and Cabinet Member for Infrastructure, said: “I was very interested in the evaluations of this trial, and particularly the feedback from councils, councillors and others. We can now build on this experience to understand that highway verges can make a positive, direct contribution to enhancing the natural environment in Essex. With care and proper advice from experts such as the Essex Wildlife Trust, we can make wildflower verges an important aspect of making our county safer, greener and healthier.”

The 2020 joint initiative trial followed a previous successful roadside beautification project, in conjunction with Keep Britain Tidy and Essex County Council, where wildflower seed was sown along stretches of the A131 from Marks Farm to Broad Road Braintree. The seed used was a perennial mix that came into bloom in late June 2019 and will continue to bloom and become more established each year.

Published: 17th March 2021