A CONSERVATION champion has spoken of his despair by the county council over its verge cutting.

Wilf Fenten, who lives near Horton-in-Ribblesdale, said North Yorkshire County Council had cut the verges twice already this year while Cumbria managed to maintain the sides of its roads with one cut in late summer.

Mr Fenten said: “The verges between Settle and Ribblehead/Ingleton received their first cut around mid-May, before May 20 this year. Plant growth at the time within one metre of the road edge was less than three inches/8cms. At no point in this area were any corner or visibility splays obstructed by new plant growth.

“During conversations in 2020 and before, Highways had repeatedly pointed out that any early cutting date would not be useful. Nevertheless the verges were cut early, mowing all emerging spring flowers such as bluebells. The verges between Horton-in-Ribblesdale and Ribblehead were cut not too wide, in fact not at all in some places where there is no room for any cut.

“Over the next six weeks plants grew vigorously. As a result, by the end of June the plants on the verges had already exceeded three inches/8cms and it was decided that a second cut was needed.

Calling the work ‘mindless vandalism’ Mr Fenten added: “The second cut was carried out sometime between July 8 and 10 when many of the summer flowers were at their peak and some still in bud. If the second cut had been postponed to the end of July, not much further growth would have taken place.”

County Councillor Don Mackenzie, Executive Member for Access, said: “Whilst road safety remains the key priority, the County Council recognises the importance of its highways verges as a natural habitat for flora and fauna and this year has begun a series of trials on our Category 2, 3a and 3b roads (that is principally our A and B road network). These trials will include varying cutting widths, frequency and techniques of mowing in order to benefit the environment. We have identified trial sites across the county, including three sites in the Dales for 2021 – including between Ribblehead and Horton in Ribblesdale and Ribblehead to Ingleton.

“We will ensure that verges, hedges and foliage at road junctions will continue to be carefully and regularly managed to maintain sight lines for safety reasons.

“Highways officers have established a project group with their ecology department colleagues, and will closely monitor the effects of the trials on the highways network.

“An interim report will go to Executive Members in the autumn.”