Wild Plants of the Wayside

Country roads and lanes do not often offer pedestrians the safety of a pavement, and we villagers are quite accustomed to strolling along the road, and hopping onto the verge every now and then.

Verge Forncett.Photo C Wakeforda
A local verge in midsummer - by Christina Wakeford

 However, beneath our feet, these verges are not merely strips of weeds and grass;  they are SO much more. I walked a short strip of verge recently with a botanist who identified at least 25 different plants, some tiny exquisite veronicas, some, like umbellifers, large and blousy.  As a verge winds its country way, its composition varies, according to sunlight and shade, soil type, moisture, hedge height and so on. In some places creamy cow parsley will continue for kilometres.

Not all plants are beautiful, but they are all vital for one or another of our insects and therefore birds. Verges offer nourishment, shelter and nectar for pollinators. They are a critical refuge for some vanishingly rare wildflowers and attract bees and moths, among the larger insects, and small mammals and amphibians. 

High hedges above a verge protect barn owls, as they avoid car collisions, by being forced to fly higher. They form corridors that allow creatures to move easily from place to place. Wildlife needs to travel to achieve a healthy genetic mix and to find food. It is an extraordinary fact that the decline of insects is greater in National Parks because of their very isolation. 

Verges benefit from light management - nettles and brambles will happily strangle other rarer plants of course and cutting will keep these in check. Cutting too soon in late spring though, before insects have had a chance to pollinate, reduces the plants’ flowering power - they may not flower at all, thus denying wildlife precious foodstuff. 

If your house is bordered by a roadside verge you can help nature enormously by suspending that universal impulse for tidiness, at least for May and June.  This will allow nature's natural corridor to function in a landscape of diminishing habitat space and once you start to really look at the tiny wild jungle underfoot, the amazing variety of leaf and flower, the determination of each plant to out-compete the next, to survive, you will find an appreciation for beauty and interest on a different but very satisfying scale. 

Find out more

Plantlife Good Verge Guide


November 2023

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