HIGHWAYS teams across Hampshire are taking extra care to manage the county’s “Roadside Verges of Ecological Importance” just in time for verge cutting season.

To ensure that motorists and other road users have good visibility of the roads ahead, highways teams from Hampshire County Council will be trimming Hampshire’s roadside verges, including 226 which have ecological importance.

The project is also timed to manage designated Road Verges of Ecological Importance which have identified rare flower species.

Verge cutting is undertaken in both rural and urban areas of Hampshire every year. Rural grass verges are defined as areas with speed limits of 40mph and above and are cut by the county council’s highways team contractor, Amey, who use local sub-contractors.

Urban grass verges are usually roads with a speed limit of 30mph or lower and are cut by the 11 district councils in Hampshire on behalf of the county council.

Rural grass cutting is carried out twice a year, with the first cut normally taking place in May and June. The second cuts start in early September and are completed by the middle of October.

Work on most of the rural road verges consists of a one metre wide cut but at junctions, bends and in front of traffic signs the grass is cut back further to ensure good visibility for motorists. In addition, the remaining areas of verge are cut once every three years in rotation, in order to prevent them from becoming overgrown.

In central Hampshire, particularly between Winchester and Basingstoke, Dark Mullein grows in some verges.

This is the food plant for the rare Striped Lychnis moth – only found in southern central England and as a result, these verges are only cut in April as the caterpillars feed on the plant until September.

The Hampshire Biodiversity Information Centre (HBIC) monitors special road verges on a rolling programme to ensure their interest is maintained.

Some verges are deselected if rare flowers or species no longer inhabit them and new verges are selected if they are found to support rare species or habitats which were previously not know about.

HBIC also actively screens all proposed road works on a weekly basis to alert the authorities or utility companies to minimise important verges being damaged from digging or storage of machinery/materials.

Councillor Seán Woodward, executive member for economy, transport and the environment at Hampshire County Council said: “Good visibility for all road users is critical and so it is important to make sure that our verges are trimmed. Hampshire has almost 6,000 miles of road and over 2,000 miles of them are covered by the rural grass cutting programme and the same if not more in urban areas.

“We balance this with the need to ensure that plant and wildlife habitats of special interest are protected and, with sensible timing, managed verge cutting can support wildflowers and rare species.”