Living Highways project helping to boost biodiversity in Sheffield

Vipers Bugloss (c) Julie Riley, sown as part of the Living Highways projectVipers Bugloss (c) Julie Riley, sown as part of the Living Highways project

Promoting a wide variety of species and plant-life – biodiversity - is a priority for conservationists, especially in order to protect species that are threatened by climate changes, pollution and the human footprint.

The Living Highways project is a collaborative project involving Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, the University of Sheffield, Sheffield City Council and Amey, to trial whether changes to the management of the city’s grass verges will have a positive impact on the city’s eco-systems. Other potential benefits might be reducing flood risk, improving air quality and enhancing the look of the city’s streets with previously barren pathways replaced with an abundance of colourful wildflowers.

Latest news from Living Highways

Amey is responsible for the maintenance of 2.9 million metres2 of road side verges in Sheffield as part of the ‘Streets Ahead’ contract. Most of these verges are areas of regularly mown grass, but they also include some rural verges, shrubs and small patches of green space.

The ‘Streets Ahead’ contract is very specific about how these verges should be managed with a focus on the frequency of the mowing cycle and the height of the grass sward; however, over the last 3 years, Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust has been working with the Animal & Plant Sciences Department at the University of Sheffield and Amey to see whether changes to the way the verges are managed, such as leaving it to grow longer, replacing some grassed areas with wildflowers, and introducing native hedgerows or trees, could make these areas more welcoming to wildlife, increasing biodiversity.

Liz Ballard, CEO for Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust said:

"We have been working with Amey and the University of Sheffield to trial 28 sites across the city with a focus on changing mowing frequency. Trial sites have ranged from broad open road verges such as on Bochum Parkway to small patches of grass in residential areas.

The data analysis is still being done to evaluate how the changes in mowing frequency impact on the biodiversity - plants, insects, etc as well as what the public think about the changes. Initial results indicate that in some areas changing the mowing regime will not work due to understandable concerns by local residents and practicalities.

Elsewhere, such as Bochum Parkway, the signs are really positive, with these beautiful orchids being allowed to flourish (below). We have more work to do before any wider roll out across the city."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More about Living Highways

Sheffield City Council has made Amey responsible for the maintenance of over 2 million metres2 of road side verges in Sheffield as part of the ‘Streets Ahead’ contract. Most of these verges are urban ‘amenity grassland’ (other types of amenity grassland include playing fields, village greens and grassed areas around buildings), but they also include some rural verges, shrubs and small patches of green space.

The ‘Streets Ahead’ contract is currently very precise about how these verges should be managed; however, the Wildlife Trust and university are working with Amey to see whether interventions such as leaving the verges to grow longer, replacing some grassed areas with wildflowers, and introducing native hedgerows or trees, could make such areas welcoming to wildlife, improving biodiversity.

Shrewsbury Road/ South Street, near the back entrance to the city’s main train station, was one of the first verges to benefit initially after the Living Highways project worked with the Sheffield 20s and 30s Walking Group to sow wildflower seeds on a large verge in the area. The results were spectacular, with a host of poppies taking hold and transforming the character of the street. The Trust would like to thank the Walking Group who obtained the seed from GrowWild. Another plot at the Capita Building near West Bar has also been seeded as part of the trial and is a mass of colour this summer.

A big strand of the project is the ‘Urban Verge Mowing Trial’ which is being led by Olivia Richardson, a University of Sheffield PhD student. The trial involves 25 randomly chosen streets to monitor the impact of mowing less frequently. Olivia will be monitoring any changes to botany and invertebrates and the Wildlife Trust will be undertaking bird surveys. The researchers will also gather public opinion during the trial.

We are keen for Sheffield residents to get involved with surveying the impact of the Living Highways trial by emailing us using the mail@wildsheffield.com address with Living Highways in the email title. You can also share your pictures of the flora in bloom or wildlife making the most of these new welcoming environments on Twitter or facebook using the #livinghighways hashtag.

For information on our engagement with the 'Streets Ahead' project, see here.