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Enhancing biodiversity along the strategic road network Leonardo Gubert Senior Ecologist – Highways England - Southwest Operations


Roads and the Natural Environment ▪ Roads cut through virtually every terrestrial ecosystem in the world and have become a permanent part of the landscape. ▪ Roads have a great ecological impact on the environment. ▪ However, with the increasing loss of biodiversity throughout the world, road verges have attracted much attention and have become important areas of conservation as they often hold the only connection with the past natural ecosystems.


The importance of road verges ▪

Often is the best quality habitat in the area and the only link to past landscapes.

Can be of particular ecological value especially when adjacent to designated areas.

Connect wider landscape and ecosystems.

Relatively undisturbed.

Can be of high aesthetic value. For some road users, road verges offer the only connection to natural environment.


The soft side of Highways England’s estate

▪ In the UK, the total area of road verge habitat, or ‘soft estate’, is considerable, occupying around 178,000 ha in England and Wales. In England, the area of soft estate managed by Highways England along motorways and trunk roads (often referred to as the strategic road network) covers an area of approximately 30,000 ha that includes a wide range of species and habitats.


The importance of road verges

▪ A30 & A38 West of Exeter ▪ 284 Km trunk road length ▪ 450 ha of grassland & heathland habitat

• 0.002% of the area of Great Britain • Over 330 grassland/heathland plant species recorded (>10% of the nearly 3000 species described in the New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora (Preston et al. 2002)


The importance of road verges


Road verges under attack!


Working on the soft estate: what is out there? â–Ş

â–Ş

â–Ş

Desktop surveys to identify habitat boundaries and important sites/records nearby. Drive-by surveys to identify areas that merit further investigation. Phase 1 and full botanical surveys in areas that are species rich or show potential.


Gathering the information


So, is it a matter of management?


Tools to help management

▪ ▪

In the Southwest Region, Highways England have been implementing a Grassland Management Programme (GMP) across its road network in Devon and Cornwall since 2002 (Gubert, 2017). The GMP is reviewed each year, enabling biodiversity and landscape commitments to be met whilst at the same time providing best value for money. The Area 1 GMP is now fully GIS-based. The GMP identifies all aesthetic and species-rich grasslands within the soft estate that require specific management and provides cyclic, prescriptive management recommendations for individual grassland plots based on previous surveys and habitat mapping exercises.

Gubert, L (2017). Managing roadside grasslands along the trunk roads of southwest England. In Practice – Bulletin of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management, 96 pp 19-23.


Tools to help management


How easy is the management? Are the steep slopes suitable for personnel and machinery?


How easy is the management?

Timing? Access? Arisings? Traffic management restrictions? Noise? Sensitive sites? ECoW? ‌


Choose your weapons carefully


Biodiversity Conservation Initiatives Pollinator Studies: A baseline survey carried out with the assistance of Buglife to help Highways England fulfil their commitment to support The National Pollinator Strategy as well as their own Biodiversity Plan. This study covered a variety of roadside habitats and contributes to the way roadside verges are managed. In total, 866 taxa were recorded including 32 different species of bees, 16 nationally scarce species, 4 species of principal importance and 1 endangered species.


Biodiversity Conservation Initiatives Species rich grassland creation:

Sowing locally sourced material or using green hay - a simple method capable of creating good quality sites by harvesting the seed material from existing local species rich roadside verges and introducing them at preprepared sites with little botanical interest. There are local plans afoot for A120 Stanstead Airport - Harwich (~10 ha), A11 Mildenhall – Thetford (~11.5 ha)


Biodiversity Conservation Initiatives iTree Study: An analysis of the trees in the soft estate in Devon and Cornwall. By combining field collected information with local phenological, climate and pollution data, it is capable of calculating the function and a range of benefits (ecosystem services) provided by the soft estate.


Biodiversity Conservation Initiatives Boosting habitat connectivity: â–Ş Using readily available data (EnvIS, habitat and species data, maps and LiDAR aerial photography) we prepared a habitat map of the area surrounding the trunk road and associated soft estate. Applying Earth Observation techniques (EO) it was also possible to identify hedgerows throughout the area of interest and build additional complexity into the habitat permeability analysis.


Biodiversity Conservation Initiatives â–Ş A30 Goss Moor Marsh Fritillary Project (in partnership with Natural England and Eden Project)


Biodiversity Conservation Initiatives â–Ş A30 Goss Moor Marsh Fritillary Project (in partnership with Natural England and Eden Project)


Biodiversity Conservation Initiatives


Biodiversity Conservation Initiatives The road hazel dormouse


Biodiversity Conservation Initiatives


Biodiversity Conservation Initiatives


Biodiversity Conservation Initiatives Habitat connectivity at landscape scale: Tree and hedge planting: around 10,000 native trees and shrubs planted to enhance connectivity and provide habitat for birds, mammals and insects in Devon and Cornwall.


So, the road to biodiversity?

Thank you

Profile for Suffolk Naturalists' Society

Enhancing Biodiversity along the Strategic Road Network  

Leonardo Gubert, Highways England SNS Conference On the Verge of Success. Sat. 29th Feb 2020. Wherstead Park, Ipswich

Enhancing Biodiversity along the Strategic Road Network  

Leonardo Gubert, Highways England SNS Conference On the Verge of Success. Sat. 29th Feb 2020. Wherstead Park, Ipswich

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