Road builders asked to consider butterflies

When drawing up plans for a new road butterflies might not be at the forefront of the designers' minds but, according to new guidelines published this week by the Highways Agency and English Nature, they should be.

As any motorist will know, butterflies and their fellow insects often quite literally suffer from the impact of traffic.

The Butterfly Handbook offers advice to engineers on designing roads from an ecological point of view and outlines how habitat-enhancing landscaping and planting can help protect and even attract butterflies.

It explains how habitats can be created, managed and monitored along the road network. Helpful features include wide verges and central reservations planted with suitable scrub and hedges which create additional shelter and habitat for the butterflies.

Deep cuttings and embankments, reservoirs used for storage of storm water from the road surface and land within new road schemes can also be effectively managed to increase butterfly populations.

The guidelines are not backed up by law and are simply put forward as best practice.

The Minister for Road Safety, Dr Stephen Ladyman, said: “The new Butterfly Handbook is a welcome step forward which will help road designers and conservationists to work together to protect butterfly populations.

“The Highways Agency takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously. This new guide now demonstrates the wide range of steps it takes to protect butterflies and other wildlife in the course of its work. It is an excellent example of partnership working between two government agencies, the Highways Agency and English Nature.”

In the foreword to the handbook, Dr Martin Warren, chief executive of the Butterfly Conservation charity, says: “Butterflies have probably never been as endangered as they are today following decades of loss of key semi-natural habitats such as flower-rich grasslands. This report is extremely valuable and timely as it concerns an increasingly important habitat for butterflies and other insects.

“With a little planning, road verges can be made even better places to conserve butterflies and other wildlife as they can provide suitable breeding habitats for many species and provide crucial links between the patches of habitat that remain.”

English Nature’s chief scientist, Dr Keith Duff, said: “Road construction has had a massive impact on the English landscape both positive and negative. This joint publication, the first between English Nature and the Highways Agency, brings together a huge body of research which examines how butterflies can benefit or be disadvantaged by road construction.

“We hope that road engineers across the country will use the handbook to design and construct roads which enrich the value of our countryside for butterflies and other species.”

Of the 56 species of butterflies resident in Britain, 26 are recognised under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan as species that need habitat protection to survive in healthy numbers.

Sam Bond

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