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.

Sheffield City Council has made Amey responsible for the maintenance of 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 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.