Grass verge management
From Spring 2023, all grass verges in Oxford will be cut once a year as part of work to support biodiversity across Oxford.
Oxford City Council manages the majority of highways, as part of a service carried out on behalf of and paid for by Oxfordshire County Council. Grass verges in the city are mown by ODS on behalf of the Council.
Verges that are cut regularly are often perceived as neater, however they do not create the best environment for plants and wildlife to thrive. Allowing verges to grow means that wildflowers can flower and set seed. This provides greater food sources for pollinators, such as bees, and enables the wildflower populations to flourish.
According to the Wildlife Trusts, around 700 species of wildflower grow on road verges – nearly 45% of the UK’s total plant population. More information on best practice for grass verge management can be found here.
As we work to tackle the climate and ecological emergency in Oxford, this approach to grass verge management will allow us to support biodiversity across the city.
Reducing carbon emissions
Aside from helping wildlife, changes to the way verges are maintained have helped reduce CO2emissions by 10 tonnes a year. Cutting the verges only once a year also has a big impact on the Council’s carbon footprint and vehicle emissions.
History of the long grass verges in Oxford
The long grass verges programme arose from the Council’s 2020 Oxford Biodiversity Action Plan which set out work that is already done to support biodiversity in our green spaces in recent years and identified a wide range of further habitat improvement projects and environmental initiatives.
The review recommended changing the way some grass verges in the city are managed to increase their potential to support biodiversity, including creating wildflower areas.
During 2021, the Council trialled an annual cut approach at 26 locations across the city, with just one cut taking place in the late summer. This trial was extended in 2022 to cover more locations.
In 2023, taking into account feedback from residents and stakeholders, as well as Oxfordshire County Council’s updated approach to grass verge management across the county – we decided to extend this approach to all grass verges within the Oxford City boundary from 2023 onwards. You can read more about the trials here.
If you have a lawn area or garden, you can help support biodiversity within your garden by choosing to not to mow some or all of your green space. Just sit back and watch the flowers grow.
Climate Action Oxfordshire has more information, and resources, including a poster that you can download, print out, and plant in your garden, or put in your window. There are three options to choose from - two to print and colour yourself, and one that's already coloured for you.
The webpage also includes helpful advice on how to make your sign weatherproof and frequently asked questions.
Frequently Asked Questions
We know that people have questions about what an annual grass cut will mean for grass verges across the city. We have answered some of the most common questions here:
When will grass verges be mown?
Unless stated otherwise, grass verges will be mown once a year in late summer.
Will wildflowers be present straightway?
The number of wildflowers may be few at first but should increase over time as the grass becomes less dominant. The establishment of wildflowers takes time and management – often over more than one growing season - therefore it will take a while for the extent of Oxford’s native species to be revealed.
Wildflowers across Britain each have their own regional character and identity, your soil type will determine which flowers will grow.
In earlier trials, we have seen Pyramidal Orchids at Harbord Road, Abberbury Road, The Roundhay and Abingdon Road appear on grass verges. We are looking forward to seeing what appears over the next few seasons.
Are you planting wildflowers on the grass verges?
This initiative aims to encourage Oxford’s native wildflowers and other flora to grow naturally – supporting plants that are appropriate to Oxford’s geology and soil.
We are not planning on planting wildflowers on the grass verges at this stage.
Wildflower mixes often contain non-native species and may only attract certain pollinators. We must respect the natural balance of biodiversity within our city.
However, once we have a greater understanding of the types of plants and flowers that are growing on verges, we will explore whether it is necessary to plant any complementary species.
Are there any areas of the city that will be cut more often?
We will be continuing to ensure that sight lines are maintained for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians at highways junctions. You can report any concerns around visibility at junctions here.
Communal gardens around Council flats and homes will continue to be maintained for recreational use, with cuttings taking place six times a year.
How can I report litter on verges?
If you see any litter on grass verges, you can report it here.
What about parish councils?
Parish councils are responsible for grass cutting in all localised areas, including sports facilities, village greens and some highway verges. Many areas follow the same approach as the wider district, however, grass verge cutting in this area is ultimately the decision of the parish.