In response to some very early verge cutting, BRACE members sent the following email to Powys County Council asking them to look into the timing and frequency of verge cutting across the county.
Dear Powys Nature Partnership Officer and Highways Team,
Many members of BRACE have noticed that rural verges across the county, particularly around Llanfyllin and Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant have recently been cut very vigorously. This has changed rich, vibrant verges brimming with insect life into thatches of dried, dead grass. While we appreciate that some verges will need to be cut back regularly for safety and verges as a whole need active management, we believe that the timing and implementation of these cuts is wrong. It will have a very negative impact on biodiversity, exacerbating the ecological emergency.
As Powys’ “It’s for them” campaign states, “We are in a nature emergency. 1 in 6 species assessed in Wales are at risk of extinction. We need to act now to save them.” (1). And as the Wildlife Trusts state, “[w]ith over 97% of meadows destroyed since the 1930s, road verges are a vital refuge for pollinators and other wildlife” (2). We cannot afford to make mistakes at this late juncture and seal the fate of hundreds of indigenous species that rely on this crucial habitat. The Wildlife Trusts recommend cuts no earlier than the beginning of August if a single cut regime is being carried out: “[c]utting too early and too frequently swiftly eliminates many species, reducing diversity and the value of the road verge” (2).
Powys’ own website documentation (3) about verge cutting states that it conforms to Plantlife’s Good Verge Guide, the aim of which “is to delay the first cutting date of lowland grassy verges from early spring until late summer” (4). In harmony with the Wildlife Trusts’ advice, the guide recommends that “[t]he first cut should be undertaken in a period between August and the end of September, when seeds have been shed”. For the upland areas such as those around Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, the guide recommends that this should be towards the September end of the period. The guide also recommends the removal of grass clippings to prevent the build up of a dead thatch that will prevent germination of new plants. The same page of the Powys website states that the machinery for this has already been purchased with the help of a Welsh Government Local Places for Nature grant.
Cutting the verges in early June clearly does not match the above guidelines. Could you please look into why the cutting regime in North Montgomeryshire (and potentially elsewhere across Powys) does not implement the Road Verge Biodiversity strategy on the Powys website, and the best practice recommended by the Wildlife Trusts and Plantlife?
Furthermore, could you also reconsider your strategy for urban areas? While some cutting will be necessary to maintain safety and visibility, in general three cuts per year are likely to be unnecessary for most places. Management could follow the Wildlife Trusts’ recommendations for a 1 metre strip along the edge, with a single full cut later in the year in line with more rural areas. This would help give residents the impression of a well-managed space, while still allowing for most of the biodiversity benefit.
As everyone at Powys County Council is clearly well-aware, we are in a climate and ecological emergency. At BRACE, we understand that everyone is working within very tight constraints and doing their best, but this really is an emergency. Given the urgency and severity of the situation, we need, in Powys’ own words, to “act now” across all areas of life.
The theme of this year’s forthcoming Wales Nature Week is “Celebrating Nature’s Treasures… from the seemingly humble to the truly expansive” (5). Our road verges are frequently overlooked humble treasures, which would have been a prime example, had they not been cut too early. Perhaps we can make sure that they are still flourishing during the Wales Nature Week in 2024?
Members of BRACE: Building Resilience Against the Climate Emergency