Budget cuts see uncut roadside verges teeming with wildlife...

James Orr, Friends of the Earth NI director, pictured near Belfast City Centre.
James Orr, Friends of the Earth NI director, pictured near Belfast City Centre.

Motorists have grown increasingly impatient with overgrown grass verges beside Northern Ireland’s highways but yesterday environmentalists highlighted the benefits for wildlife.

Due to reductions in Transport NI’s (formerly Roads Service) budget, staff have been working on a skeleton service, according to Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy, with priority given to cutting grass where visibility is crucial such as on bends.

Alderman Paul Porter; Trevor Boyd, Jonathan Pauley & Pete Disney; Cllr Brian Hanvey; Alderman Allan Ewart and director Heather Moore

Alderman Paul Porter; Trevor Boyd, Jonathan Pauley & Pete Disney; Cllr Brian Hanvey; Alderman Allan Ewart and director Heather Moore

However, the reduced service has reportedly had a positive impact on local ecosystems, with wild flowers able to flourish this summer.

James Orr, director of Friends of the Earth, said roadside verges are particularly important for insects and pollinators, like wild bees.

“Clearly a balance needs to be struck between public safety and allowing wild places to flourish but generally speaking we have tended to forget about the wild places.”

He added that verges should be cut less often and the use of harmful pesticides should be restricted.

“We can save money and make Northern Ireland more abundant, attractive and alive. It’s a classic win-win for people and the planet.”

Conor McKinney, living landscapes manager with Ulster Wildlife, said: “Safety must come first on our roads, but for many verges one regular late summer cut and removal of mowings will keep the verge open, safe and thriving with wildlife.”

He highlighted the success of the partnership Ulster Wildlife has established with Fermanagh and Omagh Council to manage three hectares of road verges.

According to Mr McKinney, the partnership has helped to transform the fortunes of meadows in the area and saved the council thousands compared to previous practices.

“By adopting a few basic management principles, Roads Service and local councils could save taxpayers money and increase biodiversity on suitable verges.”