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Rural Verge Maintenance

Sway Parish Council's Planning and Transport Committee would like to encourage Hampshire County Council to follow a verge cutting regime that will enhance the beauty and amenity of the verges alongside our narrow rural lanes. Such a regime is advocated by the charity Plantlife and has been adopted by other nearby county councils.

In 2013, two gardens along Pauls Lane were included for the first time in Sunday June 9th's Sway Open Gardens. Over 600 people visited the area on that one day. Over the weeks prior to this, the verges along Pauls Lane and adjoining Coombe Lane had blossomed to the point where they were in themselves a worthy inclusion to the Sway Open Gardens. However with just days to go, Hampshire County Council's verge cutting contractor came along and destroyed the lot!

In 2014 verge cutting was again done sometime early in June.

In 2015, those same two gardens were again included in Sway Open Gardens on Sunday June 7th. This time, HCC's contractor made their destructive sweep of the lanes a month prior to the event sometime between May 5th and May 7th (just before the General and Parish Council elections).

In 2016, verge cutting day was June 20th. In 2017, May 18th.

This verge cutting regime is steadily degrading the diversity of plant life along our lanes and each year destroys valuable habitat for insects, small mammals and nesting birds. Where the verge is not wide enough to cut, the whirling blades are often used to cut back hedgerows inches away from nesting birds. Seeds have no chance to set so plants that were abundant a few years ago are becoming steadily rarer, while grass, nettles and brambles are becoming the dominant plants crowding out other species. Cuttings are left to rot, enriching the soil to the detriment of the very wild flora that we are desperate to save.

Over the years, various individuals have regularly lobbied Hampshire County Council to try and get them to change their regime to no avail. The charity Plantlife publicises very useful guidelines which have been adopted by other councils. The following extract comes from the Plantlife website :

Dorset County Council have adopted Plantlife's management guidelines and take a unique approach, with trials underway to improve biodiversity and reduce the need for cutting.

These are investigating different methods of management designed to lower soil fertility, leading to reduced grass growth and less frequent cutting and ultimately saving money. For example:

  • Stripping topsoil to expose lower-fertility subsoil or mineral rock
  • Harvesting "mini bales" from the roadside verges where possible
  • Reducing the growth of grass using yellow rattle
  • Grazing verges with sheep to mimic traditional meadow management
  • Using grass clippings as a source of fuel for biomass generators to produce rural electricity

Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust's Mark Schofield has authored a presentation which provides further information about such activities.

Now Sway Parish Council's planning and transport committee are investigating ways in which to increase awareness of Hampshire County Council's verge cutting regime. We hope that through giving greater publicity to the problem, those who continue to advocate the current regime may be persuaded to take a different approach.

We fully understand the need to cut verges at junctions so as to improve visibility splays. What we do not understand is the need to cut along the entire length of the lanes. The lanes we are talking about are barely one car's width so there is no sense in trying to cut a 1 metre strip along each side. Two cars cannot pass each other. One will always have to pull into a gateway to allow the other to pass. As for pedestrians and other vulnerable users, the apparent widening of the narrow lane encourages faster driving, making it far more dangerous to the other road users. The safest place to walk along our lanes is in the centre until one can take refuge in a gateway to allow a vehicle to pass. Any other behaviour simply results in a ton or more of metal speeding past at 30mph or higher, just inches away. This verge cutting regime is not only detrimental to plant, insect, small mammals and nesting or newly fledged birds, it is also dangerous to us and other larger mammals.

The final irony is that in several locations in and around the New Forest area, I have observed places where foliage has been allowed to grow such that it impedes visibility at quite dangerous junctions. This is particularly noticeable at approaches to several roundabouts where triangles of grassland between carriageways have been left to grow several feet tall making it difficult to see the traffic approaching around the roundabout. Why is it apparently considered safe to permit overgrowth in those places, but not along the sides of our rural lanes?

Supporting documentation:

Document written in 2016 and circulated to Sway Planning and Transport Committee for discussion adobe icon 2016-06-20 Verge Cutting day [11Mb]

Some photographs of the lanes soon before they were cut. (Click to see larger PDF files of these)

Verges before mowing file 1 Verges before mowing file 2

And some photographs of the lanes just after they were cut. (Click to see larger PDF files of these)

2015-05-07 Verges after mowing file 1 2015-05-08 Verges after mowing file 2