Wildflower verges in Rochdale here to stay

Date published: 22 October 2021

Wildflower verges are here to stay in Rochdale despite concerns that some of the nature-friendly floral features in the borough have failed.

The council has shifted away from mowing roadside verges to adopt a more ‘naturalised approach’ in order to improve appearance, reduce pesticide usage and attract bees and other insects.

In 2018 the first ten sites were chosen to host annual flower meadows including Middleton bus station, Hopwood Park and Sudden junction.

And the following year the council removed grass on a number of verges across the borough and replaced them with ‘nature-friendly zones’.

These ‘informal flowering lawns’ are similar to wildflower meadows but grow at low levels meaning they are more suitable for urban areas.

During his time as environment boss, Neil Emmott said these would create a haven for vital pollinating insects, while striking a balance ‘between maintaining our beautiful borough, driver safety and nurturing wildlife’.

Now council leader, he is no less committed to the project.


The verge at Sudden junction, Councillor Neil Emmott
Councillor Neil Emmott at the verge at Sudden junction in 2019


Responding to a question at the full council meeting on Wednesday 13 October from Conservative councillor Peter Winkler – who said the state of some verges suggested the initiative had failed – Councillor Emmott insisted there would be no going back on the policy.

He said: “There are a number of reasons we brought in wildflower meadows. 

“One, it’s part of our commitment to the environment. One of the issues that face our society in general is the lack of pollinating insects and the loss of the habitats that pollinating insects use, particularly bees.

“We were looking to provide more spaces for that.”

He accepted that some verges had fallen into ‘a bit of disrepair’ – but said this was due to staff shortages during the pandemic meaning they were not maintained as usual.

“I’m telling you now we are not going to go back to grass,” he told Councillor Winkler

“Because grass is actually more expensive, we have to keep maintaining grass time after time and it costs a lot to keep mowing it. And it also costs a lot for the TROs [traffic regulation orders] when we have to close the highway.

“So we are not going back to grass I’m afraid, Councillor Winkler. But what we will be doing is beginning a programme of making sure these wildflower verges are maintained properly.”

Rochdale Council maintains 500,000 square metres of highway verges across the borough – the equivalent of 100 football pitches.

In 2018 ten sites across the borough were chosen to host annual flower meadows including Middleton bus station, Hopwood Park and Sudden junction.

And the following year the council removed grass on a number of verges to make them into ‘nature-friendly zones’.

These are areas where flowers packed with pollen and nectar are planted to create natural corridors for bees and insects. They allow entire ecosystems to flourish by providing bees and insects with shelter and somewhere to hunt, feed and breed.

According to the Royal Horticulture Society, 97% of wildflower meadows in the UK have been lost since 1945 and one of the biggest problems for pollinators is a lack of flowering plants, especially those packed with pollen and nectar. The European Commission says 10% of pollinating insects are on the verge of extinction, and a third of bee and butterfly species is declining.

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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