Sarah Pettegree has lived most of her life in Norfolk and owns the award winning Bray’s Cottage Pork Pies, which was named one of the top 100 social brands in 2011. That means she tweets quite a lot. http://www.perfectpie.co.uk/
I live in a perfectly beautiful part of North Norfolk. Most of my journeys are along idyllic country lanes, generally without a white line to their name. For the past few weeks I’ve been happily enjoying the last of the bluebells, keeping an eye out for wild garlic, watching the lime-green alexanders being replaced by the frothy cow parsley, and most recently, the first of the ox-eye daisies opening, like orange polka dots.
And then I’ve been close to flaming blue murder as broad swathes of the verges have been uniformly mown to a few inches high by a small army of contracted farmers on tractors, diligently scalping junctions, bends and all along perfectly straight roads, which to be fair ti them is what they’ve been asked to do. Huge swathes of beautiful flowers gone. Sorry about that insects – that’ll be my rates paid for that.
Not wanting to have to creep out in fear of my life, I’m absolutely in favour of the high vegetation being mown at junctions and blind bends (sorry again insects), but so far as I can see there’s no road safety benefit gained on most of the verges where the poor flowers used to be.
So, I did what I do in these situations and I tweeted. Asking Norfolk County Council why mowing couldn’t be restricted to junctions and the inside curves of dangerous bends on North Norfolk’s lanes. I’m a big fan of @NorfolkCC (as we know and love them), they’re an unusually responsive local authority and they scheduled their first ever live tweet-chat on the issue with a Nick from Highways in the hot seat. I don’t know if the Nick knew what was coming. The tweet-chat over ran by half an hour and as an exercise in open government was a total triumph. Sadly though Nick’s responses were mostly defensive, a little rigid, and not very helpful. You can follow on #vergechat.
Nick refered me to the 2005 “Well Maintained Highways” guidance document and saying “Our ‘standard’ verge cutting follows national guidelines – 1 metre back from road, extra at bends and junctions”. A very quick search of the 381 page long document came up with page 237 which reads somewhat differently “…where fine stands of wild flowers are present in the verge, the timing of cutting operations should be varied to allow the flowers to set seed. Varying the times of cutting from year to year will help nature conservation/biodiversity, since a greater number of plant species will then be given a chance to flower and seed in at least some years.“ Seems fair to me – and definitely not what I’ve been seeing in Norfolk over the last fortnight.
Apart from my own personal heart-singing joy at the beauty of the lanes, the roadsides are, as Mark’s well informed readers won’t need telling, a precious potential resource for an ever-beleaguered ecosystem . We refused to allow verge herbicide spraying to continue back when the world was young and this is effectively having pretty much the same impact. Locally, North Norfolk happily welcomes year-round visitors who come because they appreciate a relatively unspoiled and definitely gorgeous rural idyll, I’m pretty sure they’d prefer to see flowers than wild plants pointlessly machined down before they’ve come anywhere near setting seed. And they’re right.
From Mark: please support Plantlife’s roadside verge campaign.