A regular colulm by Rachel Shaw of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.
There’s a haze of yellow on one of the road verges that I pass every day on my way to work. A few days ago temporary traffic lights turned to red with perfect timing for me to safely stop and take a closer look. It’s a big patch of a flower called lady’s bedstraw; a beautifully evocative name for a plant with the scent of new-mown hay.
In days gone by it was dried and used to stuff mattresses. It wasn’t added to the mattresses just to provide a nice smell. Apparently the aromatic chemical, that is so pleasant to us, is a deterrent to fleas and moths.
Which made me wonder, how much was needed to stuff a mattress? Presumably, the dried plants were added to straw in the mattresses and not used alone but even so, lady’s bedstraw must have been a very common and abundant plant. Perhaps it’s just another indication of how much our landscape has changed. The yellow haze of lady’s bedstraw, white and yellow discs of ox-eye daisies, the purple pincushions of knapweed; where we see these colours on our road verges, instead of a monochrome of green, we are glimpsing into the past.
These are the colours of meadows. Living tapestries with a wealth of evocatively named flowers. As well as lady’s bedstraw, there’s bird’s-foot-trefoil, devil’s-bit scabious and sneezewort. Even the grass isn’t just grass but quaking-grass, sweet vernal-grass and crested dog’s-tail. Meadows with a profusion of wildflowers and humming with insects would once have been a familiar sight across Lincolnshire but most of these meadows are now long gone. You can visit a few that have been saved and are now Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves and you can get a tantalising glimpse alongside a few of our roads.
Road verges remain a vital refuge for many meadow plants and animals which have become rare or localised as a result of the loss of meadows. The importance of road verges has long been recognised by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. The first stretches received protection in back in 1960. The Wildlife Trust’s pioneering Roadside Nature Reserve scheme is run in partnership with Lincolnshire County Council so the verges can be managed to take into account their wildlife and road safety. If you spot a road verge studded with colourful flowers, it might be one of the 65 road verges included in the scheme which protects over 80 kilometres (50 miles) of flower-rich verge.