When driving along country lanes, you probably don’t pay much attention to what's either side of the road.
But these often overlooked verges could help bolster Britain’s biodiversity. And they’re central to a plan that aims to encourage different species to grow while also saving money.
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“Road verges, whether rural or urban and whether on major or minor roads, can sustain an astonishing amount of wildlife,” says conservation charity Plantlife. “Nearly 45% of our total flora is found on verges.”
The charity outlines a plan to reduce how frequently the verges along 313,500 miles of rural road are cut, which it says would lower the workload and increase the number and diversity of flowering plants.
In the long term, it says, that would help bring down operational costs and reduce the carbon footprint generated by mowing.
Guidelines like these are taking on increasing importance after the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services found that nature is declining at an unprecedented rate.
“Biodiversity provides us with everything we need to live,” says Adriana de Palma, a World Economic Forum Young Scientist. “Clean air, clean water, it creates healthy fertile soil for growing crops and it pollinates crops. So if you like your coffee in the morning or an afternoon apple, we need biodiversity, to survive and to have a good quality of life.”
In the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2019, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse were ranked among the top risks by global leaders and policy-makers.
As concern grows about climate change and the destruction of natural habitats, experts are pointing to small changes in architecture and building projects, that, when taken together amount to a big difference. As well as making the most of any green spaces, introducing features like green roofs and living walls can add a natural element to urban projects.
How does the World Economic Forum encourage biological diversity?
In the last 100 years, more than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields, and all of the world’s 17 main fishing grounds are now being fished at or above their sustainable limits.
These trends have reduced diversity in our diets, which is directly linked to diseases or health risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity and malnutrition.
One initiative which is bringing a renewed focus on biological diversity is the Tropical Forest Alliance.
This global public-private partnership is working on removing deforestation from four global commodity supply chains – palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper.
The Alliance includes businesses, governments, civil society, indigenous people and communities, and international organizations.
Enquire to become a member or partner of the Forum and help stop deforestation linked to supply chains.
Proper management of the UK’s verges would create a pollinator habitat the size of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and Edinburgh combined, according to Plantlife. It has published guidelines that propose reducing the number of times a verge is cut.
In a similar fashion, scientist de Palma recommends making space in your garden with a few bricks or an untidy section of lawn to benefit biodiversity.
“A lot of the biodiversity damage that we do is because we have a very short-sighted view of pulling down this forest to grow this crop, to create money, when in the long run that might not benefit the local community, and it’s not benefiting the global community,” de Palma says.
“There are definitely ways forward and there are a lot of people working on how we balance all our different priorities. The key thing is that we make decisions and act now.”