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Whitehall manual urges roadbuilders to go wild with flowers

PROTESTERS against road schemes at Oxleas Wood, Twyford Down and countless sites of historic and scientific interest can rest easy. The Department of Transport may be tearing up thousands of acres of countryside for its pounds 2bn-a-year roads programme, but it is going to ensure that there are plenty of wild flowers growing on the verges.

Yesterday, the department published The Wildflower Handbook, an advice manual for roadbuilders on how to try to ensure that wild flowers grow in the new verges. The handbook advises that the justification for wild flowers is 'their attractive natural appearance and the interest they provide for road users'. But they will also help 'the new road blend with the landscape'. Wildflower sites also have the big advantage that they thrive when no fertiliser is used, which will save money on maintenance.

The 120-page guide lists 64 plants which could be used in mixtures, saying that only those available commercially at reasonable expense should be considered.

The handbook was launched by Robert Key, the roads minister, who said: 'This is not an add-on or extra, but is part of the integrated thinking about the roads programme.'

The minister pointed to page A10, which features wild basil, and said: 'This is more commonly associated with Italian pasta rather than roadside verges.'

He added that people were often grateful for the environmental work carried out by the department when building roads. 'Only the other day, people living near a motorway we were opening in Worcestershire came up to us to thank us for the efforts we had put in.'

Mr Key is something of an expert, having been a teacher at Harrow for 14 years during which time he was warden of the school's field studies centre. Since he left, it has been turned into a monkey park.

The Wildflower Handbook; Department of Transport; pounds 12.50