Practical aspects of the ecological management along highway and national roads motorway verges in Flanders Belgium

For several years verges of Flemish highways  and National roads are managed to optimize their ecological function. The main function of verges is to be a safety strip for traffic. Traffic in Flanders is one the most dense of Europe. Therefor it is not always easy to adapt roadside management to the ecological goals. Management machinery has to be deployed very efficiently during low traffic periods.

Specific regional legislation stipulates that the first mowing of verges has to be after June the 15th, a possible second mowing after September the 15th. This schedule however is not optimal  for the different types of grasland  or to improve their ecological quality.

The legislation also specifies to remove the clippings within 10 days after mowing, which is rather difficult on steep slopes and other locations out of reach for heavy machinery. However these places can have a high ecological potential.

In the past verges often were densely planted with trees. These plantations are now disrupting  traffic and form a possible risk due to falling trees. Strict legislation prevents a simple improvement of this situation .

Another problem is the presence of invasive alien species. Species such as Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) should be treated separately from the normal mowing activities.

To meet all these challenges, the  Agency for Roads and Traffic develops ‘Ecological Roadside Management Plans‘. These plans can prescribe integrated and optimized management alternatives based on field data and scientific knowledge.

The most important advantage of such an approved management plan is that nutrient-rich verges can be mowed earlier and more frequently in order to maintain or optimize their ecological value. For hard-to-manage locations, alternatives can be applied:

  • - Sheep grazing;
  • - Removal of the clipping by volunteers of NGO’s;
  • - Less frequent mowing for the development of scrubsPlanting bushes.

Management plans also allow to remove woody vegetation in situations where they hinder traffic without additional approvals.  For other woody vegetation a coppice management every 8 – 15 years is introduced.

The plan also describes the possibilities to control the most important invasive exotic plants.

A management plan also pays attention to the corridor or stepping stone function of the verges in relation to the surrounding landscape: is it better to have a planted verge to connect forests, or is it preferable to  restore the grassland to give other species a last habitat? The presence of defragmentation infrastructure as ecotunnels is also important when defining the management of the adjacent road verges.

A negative side of an ecological verge is the increased risk of traffic casualties. Appropriate measures can be included in the management plan in problem areas.

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