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Blooming marvellous - awards and applause for Cornwall’s vibrant verges and parks

From this week Cornwall will be alive again with the hum of Cormac mowers trimming our verges while leaving plenty of room for growth and wildflowers to bloom. Which means Cornwall will also be alive with the buzz of bees and other pollinating insects.

Cornwall’s policy of ‘making space for nature’, and this year’s policy of reducing the number of annual verge trims from eight to only two or three, is also giving a real boost to insect populations as measured by the University of Exeter.

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The study by lead author Ben Phillips says councils and other highway authorities should stop mowing at certain times of the year, and turn verges into a network of ‘wildlife corridors’. Which is exactly what Cornwall Council is doing with its Pollinator Action Plan and Environmental Growth Strategy. The University report estimates that the UK has lost almost a third of its insects in the last 50 years.

Cornwall Council, responsible for a massive 75 hectares of urban verges as well as dozens of public parks and gardens, was highlighted in the national press in July for its insect-supporting change of gear in grass-cutting i Newspaper article

Mowing is now carried out only after flowers have finished and seeds are set, and in the Liskeard and Redruth areas Cormac is trialling special new Italian mowers which collect mown grass without disturbing insects and other wildlife at ground level.

Cornwall’s residents and visitors are applauding this new approach to rewilding and encouraging biodiversity. A couple travelling down the A3191 in St Austell wrote: “It's been just marvellous to see what you have done in making large parts of the verges into wildlife areas. Not only does it look great but we know just how much it's contributing to the sustenance and growth of wildlife and helping, albeit in only a small measure, the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. Thank you so much.”

And Cornwall still turns heads for its approach to more formal planting, winning four top ‘5 Star’ Awards in the most recent Pride in Parks competition arranged by South West in Bloom, part of the Royal Horticultural Society’s biggest floral awards scheme in Europe. Cormac’s winning entries were at Queen Mary Gardens in Falmouth, Victoria Park in Redruth, Trenance Gardens in Newquay and Morrab Gardens in Penzance.

The £2.9 million Making Space for Nature project also continues apace, funded by ERDF with match funding from Cornwall Council and support from the University of Exeter, it is transforming unloved town ‘green deserts’ into wildlife-friendly spaces.

In total an area the size of 28 rugby pitches is being renovated, including spaces such as recreation grounds, parks, the edges of sports fields and closed churchyards to create havens for bees, butterflies, birds and hedgehogs. There will be wildflower meadows, ponds, hedges, trees, pollinator shrubs and bulbs to brighten up selected areas.

Making Space for Nature’s targets in September will be The Beacon in Falmouth, Towan Blystra Road in Newquay, Lanchard Woods at Liskeard, the A391 in St. Austell, and Windmill Park, Launceston, followed by a rolling programme of other sites running though until March 2021.

Cornwall Council’s Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Edwina Hannaford, said: “All this biodiverse activity is working towards our Zero Carbon ambitions. And with the reduction in road and air traffic caused by lockdown the planet has had some respite to breathe.”

“By next summer all these verges, parks and new rewilded spaces will be buzzing with insects, which is so important for the planet. I am really pleased to see Cornwall Council setting such an impressive pace, including our Forest for Cornwall planting.”

Geoff Brown, Cabinet Member for Transport, said: “So often Cormac and Highways are decried for concentrating too much on transport and engineering. But here we see biodiversity engineering in action, and it’s winning praise, prizes and public acclaim. Long may it continue. We will be working with local communities this winter to refine our verge cutting policy to create even more success next season”