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To mow or to grow? – how halving the cut will get our town verges buzzing

A new verge-cutting policy in our towns and villages aims to encourage wildflowers and pollinators to thrive and allow more natural growth without compromising road safety.   

The Council’s Environment Service is responsible for the management of a massive 75 hectares of ‘urban verges’ across Cornwall. These are the verges you see within 30mph zones.  

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Typically, these sites would be mown around eight times a year to a consistent countywide standard, starting in Spring.  

The pandemic meant that grounds maintenance operations on urban verges were held back, resulting in a flush of native wild flora, drawing in insects and other wildlife.  

In keeping with our aim to create a greener Cornwall, Cornwall Council has drawn up new plans which will see changes to the way we manage our verges from this point on.

From now on the changes will be: 

  • Annual cuts will be more than halved from eight times to only two or three.  
  • Cutting will be done AFTER the flowers have finished and seeds are set.  
  • Environmental Growth means creating the space and conditions for more abundant, productive and healthier habitats, species and natural systems. These, in turn, improve the lives of people. 
  • The Pollinator Action plan manages the Council's assets and operations to make sure they are more pollinator friendly 

Geoff Brown, Cabinet Member for Transport, said: “The Council has decided not to cut developing wildflowers and species-rich grasslands on our urban verges, but instead wait for the natural rhythms of nature to allow the plants to set seed before cutting is reintroduced. This will allow grounds maintenance teams to change the regime for these urban verges to a more ecological approach. The current lockdown has allowed many of the verges to grow naturally and has created a wonderful display of wildflowers which are of great benefit to pollinators and the planet in general.”  

The Council will of course still be tidying path edges, cutting around benches and fixtures, ensuring visibility for safety reasons, and removing noxious weeds. And on the highway, cutting at junctions and bends already takes place only for reasons of safety and visibility.

But in two towns – Liskeard and Redruth - when the grass is cut later in the year the clippings will be collected using a special mower to reduce the fertility of grass in these areas, helping to encourage greater biodiversity in the long term. 

Edwina Hannaford is the Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Climate Change. She said: “The environmental and ecological benefits of this new approach will be significant and align well with the Council’s Climate Change targets. Besides which, we’ve all been enjoying how many urban verges have become alive with colour. During the pandemic we have seen nature take back control and thrive.” 

Cabinet Member for Environment, Rob Nolan, added: “This is the time of year where fast-growing grass and other vegetation can create road and footpath hazards within 30mph zones. But we also understand that people appreciate the wild natural beauty of Cornwall and want that reflected in its townscapes. Cornwall Council intends to strike that delicate balance between ensuring road safety while leaving ecology and biodiversity undisturbed wherever possible.” 

The Council has adopted a Pollinator Action Plan and an Environmental Growth Strategy to look at how it manages its whole estate, maximising biodiversity and encouraging wildflowers and pollinating insects. It’s an example that has earned an enthusiastic thumbs up from many partner organisations. 

Mayor of Liskeard, Rachel Brooks, said: “Like lots of people locally I’ve really enjoyed seeing the wildflowers during lockdown and knowing that bees and other pollinators are benefiting. I’m really glad we can build on this with a sensitive approach which keeps most of the flowers, but also provides neat edges. I hope this will be one of many areas where we can learn from our lockdown experiences and do things differently and better.” 

Andrew Whitehouse, from Buglife, the organisation devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates, said: “Reducing the cutting of road verges and green spaces can help create more space for wildlife to thrive within Cornwall’s urban areas. Less grass cutting means more opportunity for wildflowers to flourish, and more food for bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. There are some really spectacular blooms of wildflowers in Cornwall’s towns right now.” 

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