Roadside verges project

The roadside verges project is exploring the role of roadside verges and hedges in supporting nature and providing benefits to people, and investigating how we can manager them better. The four year project is a partnership between the Cornwall AONB Unit and the Environment & Sustainability Institute (University of Exeter), led by PhD student Ben Phillips.

Most roads are bordered by hedges, trees, grassy or scrubby verges. These roadside habitats provide incredible untapped potential because they cover a substantial area of land and support a surprising diversity of life. For example, the charity Plantlife report that over 800 plant species can be found in UK roadside verges and hedges, including 100 ‘threatened’ or ‘near threatened’ species. This nature likely provides benefits to people, such as capturing vehicle pollutants, slowing rainwater run-off, and providing natural beauty to road users.

A road verge in summer (near Veryan, on the Roseland Peninsula).

A road verge in summer (near Veryan, on the Roseland Peninsula).

The project asks:

  • How do roadside verges support wildlife?

  • What benefits to humans are provided by roadside verges?

  • How can we improve management of roadside verges?

So far, we have looked at the role that road verges play in supporting pollinators, especially 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. We found that road verges are very important sources of food (flowers) for pollinators in farmland, but could be even better with some changes in management. Our recent study is freely available here, and a report published by Buglife can be found here.

A garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) feeding on common knapweed (Centaurea nigra) in a road verge near Veryan on the Roseland Peninsula.

A garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) feeding on common knapweed (Centaurea nigra) in a road verge near Veryan on the Roseland Peninsula.

We are also looking at the broad 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. We are also exploring people’s attitudes to road verges, and how to manage perceptions and expectations around tidiness. Ultimately, we want to find a practical way forward towards making our roadsides a positive space for nature that can benefit both people and wildlife in the region.

To find out more about the project, contact Ben Phillips at B.B.Phillips@exeter.ac.uk.

A road verge full of cow parlsey (Anthriscus sylvestris) near Ruan High Lanes on the Roseland Peninsula.

A road verge full of cow parlsey (Anthriscus sylvestris) near Ruan High Lanes on the Roseland Peninsula.