Last year, partly during lockdown, Wirral Wildlife volunteers helped to identify their local road verges which already have good wild flower populations, and just need managing correctly to let these flower. We put out some publicity, as did Wirral Borough Council (WBC) , and a few members of the public contributed some more. Our volunteers helped put them all into a spreadsheet and into the WBC grounds maintenance system, as this took a lot of time that officers didn't have. Steve Henderson took over the management of verges in March 2021. He and his staff have been round the proposed verges. Some proved too narrow to do effectively, as a mower's width strip alongside the road needs to be kept close-mown for safety, and in many cases the strip next to the pavement also need to be kept mown to stop long grass falling onto the pavement, so only the wider verges proved possible. We helped group these into three mowing regimes:
(e.g. cuckoo flower, buttercup).
No mowing (except roadside strip) in spring, mow down late June, keep mown thereafter till autumn. Good examples in Eastham on the Mill Park Estate e.g. Helsby Ave/Kelsall Ave corner.
(e.g. cow parsley. buttercup).
No mowing (except roadside strip) in spring, mow down late July, keep mown thereafter till autumn. Lever Causeway is a good example.
(e.g. birds-foot trefoil, storks bill, cranesbill).
March mow if needed, then no mowing till September. This group are all on the sandy soils on the Leasowe-Meols-Hoylake stretch.
All would benefit from the mowing being removed after the long grass cut, but that will have to wait on suitable machinery being obtained. In the meantime the long grass will be chopped small by flail mower so it rots in quickly.
This is by far the cheapest method of getting wild flowers displays on our verges, and letting them seed and spread, but is obviously restricted to verges with wild flowers already present in sufficient quantity to make a visual impact.
When it comes to creating new wild flower areas, it is not necessarily simple.
We are talking perennials here - cornfield annuals are a different matter and need annual cultivation, more like a bedding display. Perennial 'meadow' flowers need infertile, poor soils to compete with the grasses. Most of our amenity areas are relatively fertile because of years of nitrogen pollution from traffic and rainfall, coupled with being cut and the cuttings left on. So for verges (and Parks areas) that are vigorous grass on fertile soils, the most likely way to get long-term success is to strip the turf, including roots, and try sowing on the soil beneath, IF this is suitable - a lot of our clay areas may not be as the subsoil is difficult to cultivate. This makes it an expensive and difficult exercise, as somewhere has to be found to put the stripped turf, and it has it be transported there. On less fertile patches, it may be possible to do what Landlife trialled in Knowsley, which was close-cutting followed by herbicide to kill the grass and sowing the wildflower seed into the mulch thus created. However it means using glyphosate or similar herbicide. There were plans to do one trial area as Eastham in 2020, but Covid stopped that and that verge proved to have some wild flowers so have been put into the spring mowing regime.
For this year, we need to make sure the current known verges work, adjust mowing regimes as needed, get the staff used to doing these, and get public acceptability. With a number of verges sent in by the general public, our recorders and other naturalists need to go and see just what plants are there, to make sure we have a suitable mowing regime in place. We are sure there are other verges which could be brought into these mowing regimes, so do report any likely ones to Steve Henderson or us.
Brownfield sites may or may not be suitable. They sometimes develop good floras of their own and valuable invertebrate communities! Owners permission is needed, and if redevelopment is imminent it may not be worth it. Wildflower seed is not cheap, and cultivation is needed before sowing. Also most wild flower areas have to be mown to stay that way and not develop into bramble patches, so that means arranging and paying for mowing. Some brownfield sites are difficult to mow because of concrete remains etc. If anyone wants to see how we manage an ex-brownfield site, contact us to arrange a visit to New Ferry Butterfly Park and we will explain!
Although the charity Landlife closed in 2016, Eden Project has funded some of the work to continue in Liverpool via its National Wildflower Centre, and Richard Scott is still based locally (see https://www.edenproject.com/2020/10/from-liverpool-to-cornwall-rich-harvest-for-national-wildflower-centre). He could advise on particular sites, for a charge. We can also give advice, but our committee are all volunteers so unfortunately cannot do everything!
So the pollinator strategy is gradually being brought in, but like everything else is short of people's time. The next step could be to consider where in Parks there are suitable areas to change mowing regimes (e.g. the slopes in Oxton Fields and a part of Arrowe Park) and see whether these can be publicly accepted. There are areas where voluntary groups are already taking a hand. The Rotary Environmental Group, at present drawn from the three Heswall-based Rotary clubs, has got agreement to strip turf and sow some wildflower patches in Puddydale, Heswall, and got funding from Liverpool City Region environment grant. We have been to look at Tower Grounds, New Brighton to see what is already in that grassland and whether it would be suitable. The residents of Selkirk Avenue, Eastham have arranged to work on one patch of their close, trialing planting in wild flowers to small cleared patches, as there are some but not many wildflowers already in place. A system to keep track of these projects is needed, so that their success can be monitored and publicised, and other groups can find out how to set about it.
Wirral Wildlife committee