Polyanthus in the Cotswolds
Nearest town or settlement: Cirencester
The strategic road network operated by the Highways Agency is the single largest government asset comprising 9,380km/5,863 miles of motorways and trunk roads.
But despite the Highways Agency (HA) pledging to maintain and enhance biodiversity, management mistakes that jeopardize local countryside and biodiversity are occurring over huge tracts of land across the country.
Flora locale was particularly disappointed to discover a planting nightmare, carried out for the HA, along new banks of the realigned A419 and A417, between Cricklade and Birdlip (Wiltshire/Gloucestershire). This busy trunk road cuts through classic Cotswold country, where one of England’s most familiar wild flowers, the Cowslip, still grows along old road verges and in fragmented native grassland.
HA contractors have sown Cowslips in swathes along the new verges, but they have also planted thousands of its garden cousins, Polyanthus, in shades of yellow, pink and purple.
We assume the HA did not intend this to happen, but a mistake has been made somewhere along the line of sub-contractors involved in the landscaping aspect of the highways realignment. However, such inappropriate plantings have been commonplace as the landscaping element of these big highways schemes is seen as a relatively unimportant component by the principal contractors - who will usually outsource the landscaping to the company giving the cheapest quote. In turn those companies may not care about the detail in terms of planting stock origin, and only rarely are they forced to undertake remedial action when inappropriate stock is detected once the plants come into leaf or flower. The outcome is that there are now established many trees and wild flowers of non-British origin along Britain's major highways. These include Eastern European trees and shrubs, fodder varieties of Kidney Vetch (prevalant along the Newbury Bypass), Goats Rue, as well as species which are not native at all to our shores.
The large-scale planting of garden Polyanthus in the Cotswold countryside should not have happened. It erodes the local character of the area, and the sheer quantities of plants involved could threaten wild populations of the native Cowslip and Primrose.
See also the front page feature of Flora locale's newsletter Flora Update (Issue 2, Summer 2004).