A COUNCIL which faced a wave of criticism for restricting grass verge cuts to those needed for road safety looks set to further reduce mowing in rural areas, in a drive to improve biodiversity.

Some seven years after North Yorkshire County Council rejected appeals to rethink grass verge mowing cutbacks to save £500,000 a year, the authority is considering a series of grass cutting trials on rural roads across the county with a speed limit above 40mph.

A meeting of senior councillors and officers will consider approving reducing the number of times verges are cut, when they are cut and the width of the verge which is cut for a three-year trial.

An officers’ report to the meeting said wild plant conservation charity Plantlife had advised the authority on ways it could improve biodiversity alongside the county’s 5,753 miles of roads.

However, it states, while verges alongside urban roads with a speed limit of 40mph or less receive five cuts per season, rural roads with a 40mph limit or above already only got two cuts per season, and only at junctions for visibility, around warning signs and on a swathe up to 2.4 metres from the road.

The report states: “Given ongoing pressures on county council revenue budgets, it is proposed that at this point in time, only trials that are cost neutral or are likely to generate a cost saving are carried out.”

Officers said while the council could making further savings from the trials, potential disadvantages included preventing pedestrians having a walkway where paths do not exist and leaving people walking or riding alongside the road with inadequate room between them and traffic.

The report added road safety considerations would be “fully considered” when selecting trial locations, which would only take place on straight, flat sections of carriageway, so as not to affect visibility.

Nevertheless, the authority’s highways executive member Councillor Don Mackenzie said his main concern over the proposals was about the safety consequences, as lengthy vegetation could block road users vision.

Cllr Mackenzie added: “I have for a long time been very sympathetic to less cutting of verges. We get residents who complain to us that verges are looking untidy, but untidiness in the countryside can be better for wildlife. The ecological background to this is an important factor in our decisions.

“Road safety is always the number one priority of a highways authority, but the cutting of grass at junctions to guarantee sight lines is something we have never compromised on. If we can narrow the width of what we cut and if we can cut less often then that could be very good for wildlife. We need to be doing more to help pedestrians, not less, so if there is a threat to footpaths being overgrown and impassable due to excessive growth or grass, shrubs or bushes, clearly that would be wrong.”