For many years, this north facing strip of grass had been an uninspiring, regularly mown verge with very little wildlife value. The council would mulch the vegetation during the mowing season, and it was even used as a storage area one summer when a drainage pipe was laid through the village and various barriers and signs were seen flattening the grass and generally degrading what vegetation was present.
In late August 2014 we were able to begin a restoration process by giving the area it's first proper 'hay cut' after allowing the vegetation to grow out for the first time.
With the area cut and raked off hard we spaced out and planted a selection of robust native wildflowers in 9cm pots which we knew would manage to survive against coarse and vigorous grass species. The species chosen were suited to the local soil type, and the same species were also present about a mile away in a roadside verge with existing populations of wildflowers.
After watering the plants in well they were monitored over the following months, and all survived with lush growth put on by Spring 2015.
Many of the wildflowers flowered during the Summer of 2015, however by July it was obvious the coarse grasses were really growing too well, and so something had to be done. We carried out an earlier hay cut that year to remove more nutrients from the meadow, and gave the area another very thorough raking off, an important factor in any meadow creation or restoration project.
2016 proved to be a great success, with much more knapweed (centaurea nigra) flowering for a long period, backed up by a few field scabious (knautia arvensis) and sorrel (rumex acetosa). The project was really beginning to work well, although there was still some heavy growth of coarse grasses to contend with.
We cut the area towards the end of September and raked everything off hard once more.
After leaving the verge for about a month we returned when the weather was cooler and damper to mow and collect the regrowth, expose plenty of gaps in the sward and again plant some additional 9cm potted wildflowers.
We also sowed a good quantity of fresh viable yellow rattle (rhinanthus minor) seed for the first time, a parasitic annual plant which is an excellent way of reducing the vigour in grasses, aiding the establishment of wildflower species.
2017 has been a fantastic season for this flourishing strip of wildflower meadow. The grass growth has been vastly reduced thanks to a good show of yellow rattle. This has enabled the many wildflowers the room they've needed to get established and spread.
A quick count of the lush clumps of perennial wildflowers present before we carried out the annual hay cut in mid November revealed at least 42 large plants, where 3 years before there were no wildflowers present.
With another batch of fresh yellow rattle sown and left to germinate over the winter months, the future is looking very bright for this humble strip of roadside verge.
With the verge now supporting populations of voles, amphibians, butterflies and moths to name just a few, this case study is just another example of how wildlife can thrive with a little encouragement, in any situation.
Text and images by Jim Ashton