Some of Lancashire’s roadside verges could be transformed into “wildflower corridors” next summer.
Lancashire County Council has agreed to explore whether rural routes and the roads leading into towns and cities could be made more attractive – to both humans and wildlife.
The plan won cross-party support at a meeting of the full council when Conservative member David Foxcroft said the county was “uniquely placed” to roll out a policy which has already been adopted on routes including the Broughton bypass and forthcoming Penwortham bypass.
“In less than a century, the UK has lost 97 per cent of our wildflower meadows,” County Coun Foxcroft said.
“Positive action like this can halt that decline and begin to reverse some of the damage. Roadsides which have no ecological value can become wildlife havens.
“[The policy can also] reduce flood risk and support positive mental health – this is just the beginning,” he added.
The meeting heard that an eight-mile stretch of roadside wildflowers in Rotherham became a tourist attraction in its own right – and saved over £20,000 each year in maintenance costs.
Lancashire has already begun to cut verges no further than a metre from the edge of the road in some places, in order to encourage wildlife to flourish.
Independent Fylde East county councillor Liz Oades said the authority would benefit from seeking the advice of the various “in bloom” organisations across Lancashire.
“You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to cultivate weeds – but it is,” she said.
County Coun Foxcroft acknowledged that the plan would need to be “carefully thought through”, because of the potential effect on sight lines for drivers at junctions.
Meanwhile, deputy Labour opposition leader John Fillis warned that the authority would have to take into account the fact that some of the potential routes which could be transformed are “dangerous roads, [to which] we wouldn’t want to attract people inappropriately”.
The meeting also heard that the replacement of neatly-mowed grass with wildflowers did necessarily mean the areas would become low maintenance.
“You have to actively manage these sites and I’m not sure it will save any money – but it has transformed what are otherwise green deserts into wildlife-rich routes, “ Liberal Democrat group leader David Whipp said.
Members were also told of the potential benefits of the plan to air quality in the county.
“Green corridors will trap [particulate matter] acting as a natural barrier between the road and houses, schools and businesses,” Conservative county councillor Charlie Edwards said.
A report on the proposed scheme will be published in the autumn – in time for planting to begin next Spring.
The policy would provide a much-needed way of “giving something back to nature”, Preston Rural member George Wilkins told the chamber.