How wildflowers will make a difference

We’ve been busy planting wildflowers in the borough and had a range of feedback from residents about this. Some people think it’s beautiful and can see how it’s beneficial to wildlife and others have asked why the wildflowers have not appeared in their area yet. We spoke to our project manager Danny Hodson to find out more about this work.

Q: It has been a real pleasure for many people to see the beautiful wildflowers in some of the borough’s highway verges and open spaces. Why are these wildflower areas so important?

Danny Hodson (DH): Wildflowers give a longer flowering season and offer better support for biodiversity than amenity grass. This has encouraged pollinating insects for the benefit of local people and wildlife.

Verges in particular provide a significant resource of increasing importance to UK wildlife.  Establishing ecological networks to support the recovery of nature is a priority for the government. Many local authorities have started to use central reservations, verges and islands as locations for wildflower growth and development.

Solihull Council’s Wildlife Ways programme picks up on this and the borough’s network of road verges is ideally placed to deliver what is necessary to make “more, bigger, better and joined-up” habitats and fully contribute towards the conservation of the UK’s biodiversity. It will also ensure road verges help meet national targets to improve ecological connectivity and improve resilience to climate change impacts.

Q: Many of the wildflower areas have made a huge positive impression on their areas and local people. Can you tell me more about the benefits of these areas?

DH: In some cases the benefits have been immediate. The fabulous floristic meadow turf used by our landscape contractor idverde has been inspired by nature, but designed to give an instant effect of colour and good structure. It is immediately liked by those who see it, as responses to our turf along Monkspath Hall Road and on Station Approach have shown. Praise has come via social media and our inbox for the many displays people have enjoyed whilst out for their daily exercise.

The designs are carefully created to allow complex but well-structured meadows that not only establish successfully, but will go on to improve year on year. Our suppliers, Pictorial Meadows, use a high number of fine foliage and small flower heads but deliberately exclude most grasses and bigger flowers as they can swamp out the more desirable species.

Some of the other actions we’ve taken includes cutting narrow strips around some verges, framing and tidying the flower areas. Community engagement and education events raise awareness of the importance of wildflower verges, along with signage, which will later include information boards to tell people about the habitat improvements.

Q: Why have some areas had wildflower seeding rather than turf?

DH: Perennial wildflower seeded meadows support a range of pollinating species, to improve the borough’s wildlife and increase biodiversity but this is a longer and more deliberately managed process. However it eventually brings the same visual and ecological benefits as turf.

Seeding can occasionally be unpredictable – it might not always flower in the first year and sometimes not until the second or third year. This does not always immediately look as good as expected to the eye but it is still a natural key survival feature for many plant species.

The areas for wildflowers to grow and thrive firstly need to be free of weeds and grass and are prepared well in advance. The ground is then cultivated, but not too deep in order to avoid bringing unwanted weed seeds to the surface. A wildflower mix is chosen that is suitable for the soil type and location (proximity to roads, visibility at junctions, for example). We use a basic seed mix to create a very diverse area where conditions vary across a site, which is sown at 3-4 grams per square metre.

Q: We have had some people comment that a few areas are quite grassy and appear untidy at the moment, with little sign of wildflowers. Can you explain this please?

DH: This is due to unprecedented and unforeseeable climatic events. We experienced delays due to waterlogging over winter (the wettest February on record as heavy rainfall from storms caused flooding in many areas) and an exceptionally prolonged hot spring (the driest May in 124 years) which led to inconsistent seed growth in some locations.

We continue to monitor growth and will be maintaining any areas which have become unkempt, prioritising careful management of them over the remainder of this year and next. These verges will have their own management plans to guide and address any future maintenance when handed over by the contractor.

However, we have recorded the presence of many wildflowers within the seeded verges already, despite the adverse weather, which should develop into a better picture of floral diversity next year and in subsequent years. We will be tidying up these verges and in July or August cutting these to about three to four inches in height, leaving the cuttings temporarily and removing them after flower seed has fallen. This also helps control weeds and encourages healthier root and shoot development.

Q: So we can expect to see lots of colourful flowers in these areas in the coming months and years?

DH: Flower-rich verges are increasingly popular with local communities and are an effective way of encouraging wildlife into the heart of the built environment. We look forward to seeing colourful displays in these areas in the next few years, and will be working hard to ensure these happen to the benefit of residents and wildlife alike.