Woodbury Roadside Wildflower Survey shows 29% decline
Updated: Jun 8
Recording and monitoring wildflowers whether by camera or notebook, on foot, by bike, or other means, is a thoroughly worthwhile hobby. Apart from the obvious benefits to personal health and wellbeing (and encouraging a closer connection to nature), the data collected sets a benchmark for future comparison. It is thanks to the foresight of Sally Elliott and Sylvia Wickenden who started monitoring wildflowers on verges in the parish back in 2008, that I have subsequently been able to compare the data and show the change over a decade.
The method of monitoring and the exact same four verges were surveyed bi-monthly in 2008 to 2011, and then again in 2019. Wildflowers in flower were recorded and then duplicates of plant species eliminated in order to arrive at a total of different plant species for each of the different verges in each year.
The 2009 survey listed 228 wildflower species found on the verges of the parish, whereas 2019’s survey reports only 162 – a decrease of 29%.
Plantlife’s Road Verge Campaign cites a 20% drop in species diversity as the national average, so why is the decline so marked here in Woodbury parish? We are close to the East Devon AONB, and surrounded by countryside, so requires further investigation. The survey is therefore continuing this year with additional monitoring of neighbouring habitats, and will be compared with data from 2010 for consistency.
It has been well documented that the UK has lost over 97% of its wildflower meadows since the 1930s. The impact on biodiversity has been severe with many insect, animal and bird species becoming extinct. Wildflowers support a myriad of insects from bees and beetles to grasshoppers and butterflies, which in turn support many small animals and birds. It is therefore vital that road verges, often the last refuge for rare and endangered wildflower species, are maintained according to best practice for biodiversity gain, and consequently preserved for the future.
I hope that the publication of this report will raise awareness of the importance of road verges, create a discussion point as to management and conservation, and encourage others to start their own or help out with existing biodiversity surveys such as the National Plant Monitoring Scheme.