Rare species fight back on Britain's M-way verges

A A A

The dormouse, a dozy little creature that spends eight months of the year snoozing, is at the forefront of an unexpected wildlife revolution even as it sleeps.

The endangered animal is finding an unlikely refuge on the motorway verges of southern Britain, says the Highways Agency. Its experts surveyed selected sites for signs of the dormouse and found it in residence in 15 out of 40 places. Another 200 promising areas are still to be investigated.

This news highlights the value of motorway and trunk road verges for flora and fauna. The grassland, scrub and woods beside our major roads total 27,000 hectares, an area the size of the Isle of Wight, and harbour rare plants such as the Deptford pink, green-winged orchid and yellow rattle. They are also home to black hairstreak and white admiral butterflies, and mammals as varied as Daubenton's bats and muntjac deer.

The verges and banks of our major roads now contain 60 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, with another 200 bordering them. Small wonder then, that Tony Sangwine, biodiversity and landscape adviser to the Highways Agency, describes these strips of land as "Britain's least-known nature reserve". And, happily - since only rare, authorised feet are allowed - they are the least visited by humans, too.

The Highways Agency now mends as much damage due to road building as it can, and takes care to provide varied habitats. Some verges are managed as traditional hay meadows, and newer ones planted with wild flower seeds, native shrubs like juniper, and valuable trees such as the black poplar. Last year the HA planted its 50 millionth tree since the Second World War, and it has now put up 1,000 bat boxes and miles of badger fencing, as well as otter runs and ponds for great crested newts.

The floral benefits, either by design or the unearthing of long-dormant seed, are widespread. Rare plants that now flourish on road sides range from green-winged orchids (M40, Bucks) to Deptford pink (Devon and Worcester - two of only 13 sites in Britain), wild daffodils by the M50, and outbreaks of bee, pyramidal, early purple and common spotted orchid. Because of the salt spread on major roads in winter, seaside species also thrive, including Danish scurvy grass (ground-hugging plants whose whitish flowers border hard shoulders in April and May), lesser sea-spurrey, and buck's-horn plantain and grass-leaved orache (both M5).

There are water voles by the M26 and greater horseshoe bats by the A38. The small mammal populations of mice, shrews and voles tempt so many kestrels to hover over verges that the bird is virtually an emblem of the road network.

And, just to complete the happy picture, many counties managing minor roads have been running protected verge schemes. These roadsides you can safely explore: many are sign-posted and contain rarities such as coralroot bittercress (West Sussex), Spanish catchfly (Cambs), lady orchid (Kent) and bastard toadflax (Lincs).

AT THE ROADSIDE

1 Yellow rattle (rhinanthus)

2 Muntjac deer

3 Wolf spider

4 Common blue butterfly

5 Ox-eye daisies

6 Dormouse

7 Pyramidal orchid

8 Fox

9 Bee orchid

10 Badger

11 Field poppy

12 Red kite

13 Spotted orchid

14 Barn owl

15 Hedgehog

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London