A NEW WAY TO EXPLORE THE CORNWALL AONB
Understanding the value of our roadside hedges and verges.
The Cornwall AONB Unit is working in partnership with the Environment & Sustainability Institute (University of Exeter) to study hedges and road verges. The four year project is exploring their role in conserving nature and providing benefits to people, and investigating how to manage them in the best way possible.
At last count, there were 4,616 miles (7,430 kilometres) of roads in Cornwall. Narrow lanes, tall hedges and stone-faced earth banks are deeply characteristic of the Cornish landscape. In many cases, they mark ancient routes or boundaries, with some hedges dating from as far back as 6,000 years ago. Whilst roads undoubtedly have some negative impacts for nature, they also provide important potential habitat because most roads are bordered by a thin strip of land in the form of a hedge or verge. These roadside habitats provide incredible untapped potential because (i) They cover a substantial area of land when summed across Cornwall and the UK, and (ii) There is little or no competition for their use. Beyond their clear purpose as boundary markers, roadside verges and hedgerows support a surprising diversity of life and are home to many rare and threatened species. For example, the charity Plantlife report that over 800 plant species can be found in UK roadside hedges and verges, including 100 ‘threatened’ or ‘near threatened’ species.
Roadside habitats are therefore important for providing:
Food and shelter for many species (from mosses and ferns to bats and bees).
A vast network along which species can move and disperse.
Benefits to humans, such as capturing vehicle pollutants, slowing rainwater run-off and, in theory, could provide natural beauty to road users.
Since September 2017, the Cornwall AONB has been working in partnership with the Environment & Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter to study these roadside habitats. The project is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and is being carried out by Ben Phillips, a PhD student at the University of Exeter’s Environment & Sustainability Institute in Penryn.
The general questions that we are looking to answer are:
How do roadside hedges and verges support wildlife?
What benefits to humans are provided by roadside hedges and verges?
How can we improve management of roadside hedges and verges?
The project is now one year in and will continue until 2021. Over the past year, we have looked at the role that hedges and road verges play in supporting plants, flowers and pollinators in farmland. This is important because insect such as bees are crucial for the pollination of many crops and of wild plants, but have suffered declines in recent decades. The early findings show that hedges and road verges are essential in providing food (flowers) for pollinators in farmland, as there is often very little food for pollinators within fields. However, the way in which these are managed has a big impact on the amount of flowers provided, and other factors such as high traffic on roads can cause pollution and disturbance which probably affect the value of road verges to pollinators. We have also begun to consider the broader range of benefits that are provided to people. For example, rainwater may be slowed and absorbed by roadside vegetation, reducing flooding, soil erosion and contamination of water sources.
Over the next two years, we plan to develop a set of management guidelines for road verges in the County. We will also be further exploring some of the negative impacts of roads on wildlife in road verges, such as the impact of pollution, and how to make best use of road verges given this. Finally, we aim to learn about people’s attitudes to road verges and different management options, as well as barriers and opportunities for changing management. The aim is to find a practical way forward to making our roadside hedges and verges a positive space for nature that can benefit both people and wildlife in the region.
To find out more about the project, contact Ben at B.B.Phillips@exeter.ac.uk.
Cornwall’s protected landscape is well known and much loved for its iconic tin mines and prehistoric stone circles and these features often form some of our visitor’s fondest memories of Cornwall and the reason why so many return time after time. These features are also much treasured by the many local voluntary conservation groups who tirelessly give up their own time on a regular basis to safeguard heritage sites, working with local landowners, across the county from Rame Head to West Penwith.
But did you know that the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) contains most of the County’s scheduled monuments?
There are currently 90 Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs) outside of West Penwith in the Cornwall AONB on the Heritage at Risk Register. The Register is maintained by Historic England and is free to search on their website. Cornish monuments at risk range from prehistoric settlements, barrows and stone circles to defensive and industrial heritage features. A further 50 sites in the AONB are also in danger of becoming at risk if no action is taken to address their condition. Collectively these sites are principally on Bodmin Moor, the Lizard and at Rame Head, with the main threats being vegetation and tree growth and a lack of awareness of their management needs. Despite their obvious interest, the vast majority of sites contain no on site interpretation or descriptions other than what survives of the monument so most people would be unaware that they are passing through an Iron Age or Bronze Age settlement or defensive fort. Only with the stone circles, tin mines or eighteenth century forts that have a significant physical presence are the monuments more obvious.
In some cases inappropriate, albeit unintentionally, harmful attention by visitors can be a threat to sites such as at Stowe’s Pound on Bodmin Moor where the building of “fairy castles” by visitors risks harming the original heritage value of this site. On others such as the rock labyrinth art at Rocky Valley, Tintagel, the tracing by visitors on to paper of the labyrinth features on the cliff face is causing the gradual erosion of these features themselves. In these and other cases heritage is best safeguarded for future generations by leaving only footprints on the path and taking only photographs and memories home.
Earlier this year the Cornwall AONB Partnership was awarded a £9,700 grant from Historic England to develop a project to increase our understanding and awareness of the needs of our scheduled monuments across some of Cornwall’s most outstanding landscapes, working collaboratively with landowners and community based conservation groups.
With the support and expertise of the Cornwall Archaeological Unit, we have now completed four training sessions with Truro College Archaeology students and community-based conservation groups Timeseekers, Cornwall Archaeological Society, Lizard Archaeology Network, Meneage Archaeology Group, Rame Conservation Trust and Caradon Archaeology to equip local volunteers to gain new surveying skills and knowledge and to enable them to help shape the project. These training sessions were the first time that some of these separate groups had met together to share their expertise and experience and to consider how they might build on this and work together increasingly in the future for the benefit of Cornwall’s scheduled sites.
This is the first step to developing a plan that will seek to safeguard and stabilise the most vulnerable and threatened sites and provide more opportunities for local people and visitors to learn about, respect and appreciate the built heritage of the Cornwall AONB whether through walking and cycling past these sites or taking a more active role in their physical conservation such as through scrub clearance or volunteer archaeological digs.
As Roy Goutte the Team Leader of TimeSeekers says: -
'These wonderful sites and Prehistoric remains have been bequeathed to us by our Late Neolithic/Early Bronze age ancestors. To allow them to fall into a continuing state of ruin and hidden by undergrowth is an insult to their outstanding building achievements and why we, as a group, are so committed to keeping them tidy and in the public gaze for the foreseeable future'.
Anyone interested in finding out more about scheduled monuments or the Heritage at Risk Register can search for sites near to you at HistoricEngland.org.uk
By registering with the Historic England website people can now contribute their own photos and information about listed sites to add to our shared knowledge of these important monuments in the Cornwall AONB.
So next time you take a walk out in Cornwall’s AONB, take a deeper look at the landscape and landform and see how much more you can spot, appreciate and learn about this often forgotten and hidden aspect to Cornwall’s protected landscape. You will be amazed at what you will find out!