Technical Tip of the Month...

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Cutting path verges to benefit wildlife

The verges along a path can be an important place for wildlife.  Butterflies lay their eggs and complete their life cycle in the vegetation.  Wildflowers offer a rich source of nectar for insects such as bees.  Birds and mammals eat the grass seeds and insects.  Reptiles and amphibians hunt in the vegetation, and use it as cover when moving from place to place.  And bats forage for insects in the tall vegetation during the night.

The key to improving the verges along a path for wildlife is to cut three different heights of vegetation, consisting of short, long, and tall vegetation.

Short vegetation

  • Cut a half metre wide strip of 50mm high vegetation along edges of the path.
  • This provides an open and tidy appearance, but gives grasses and wildflowers a chance to flower and seed.  It will also provide cover to insects in or on the ground.

Long vegetation

  • Cut a half metre wide strip of 150mm high vegetation at the back edge of the short vegetation.
  • Grasses and wildflowers will have a greater chance to flower and seed.

Tall vegetation

  • Cut a half metre wide strip of 500mm high vegetation at the back edge of the long vegetation.
  • This will provide cover and breeding opportunities for a wider range of insects, butterflies, and moths.  Grassess will provide larval food for many species of butterfly and moth, which lay their eggs in the tall vegetation.  Cover for flying insects will be provided during rain and sudden changes in temperature.
  • Leave some tall vegetation over the winter and cut in late March - early April the following spring, no shorter than 150mm to avoid harming any insects in the vegetation beneath.
  • Late summer cuts in August and early September may be required during a wet season.  Then afterwards, leave to grow through the winter.
  • If possible, leave some tall vegetation to let grasses and wildflowers flower and seed.  Cut this vegetation on a two or three year cycle.

You might meet some opposition from people who use the path regularly.  It is, therefore, important to tell them about any changes you plan to do.  An information sign on the path about the wildlife people will see, as a result of your changes, will convey the message to them quite easily.  Try to get them to understand the benefits of what you are doing so they do not just see it as a maintenance cost cutting exercise!

© 2014 Paths for All - Registered Scottish Charity No: SC025535, Company Limited by Guarantee No: 168554 inc. 19 Sept 1996 at Companies House, Edinburgh