North Yorkshire County Council seeks to cash in on grass verge cuttings

A council responsible for more than 9,000km of roads is to trial collecting the grass it cuts from verges, saying cuttings which have for years been left to rot away are “a potential revenue-earner”.

North Yorkshire County Council will examine the commercial demand for harnessing energy from the cuttings to boost the country’s electricity supply while also improving the biodiversity and appearance of its road network.

The authority has approved investigating the benefits of taking grass cuttings to one or more anaerobic digesters as it continues trials of alternate rural grass cutting regimes to identify ways it can help to enhance flora, while ensuring changes grass cutting regimes do not impact on highway safety.

The trials at about 20 locations across the county are set to last three years, but the council has already acknowledged potential disadvantages of the scheme include 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.

Cllr Don Mackenzie.

Following the authority significantly reducing the amount of verge mowing in 2015 to save an annual £500,000 as part of austerity cutbacks, grass cutting and verge management has continued to be one of the leading issues raised by residents.

With county council-funded cuts in urban and rural areas reduced to five and two per season respectively, the authority has been approached by several town councils seeking to enhance biodiversity in their communities.

An officer’s report states while cut grass is currently left on the verges to decompose, the authority is preparing a proposal for funding from its Beyond Carbon programme to allow for a commercial cut and collect operation to be assessed, alongside identifying the “wider appetite for verge cutting material” from anerobic digestion firms.

Cllr Don Mackenzie, the authority’s executive member for access, said although collecting the cuttings would cost more, the grass could be used at the Allerton Park recycling plant to generate electricity and make money for the authority.

He said: “If you remove the grass cuttings, the advantage to the environment is it makes the soil much less fertile which would encourage the growth of the sorts of wildflowers, such as buttercups, poppies and cornflowers that people would like to see on their verges.

"Leaving the grass cuttings on the verges tends to encourage only the growth of nettles and course grass.”

The authority’s leadership believe that with the relatively simple change of collecting the cuttings they could see what was a lose-lose situation transform into a win-win one.

Cllr Mackenzie said: “You get criticism from both sides of the spectrum.

"Certain people say because some verges have been left uncut they look untidy while others question why the verges are being cut as it doesn’t encourage biodiversity.

"While we get criticism from both sides, if we are in the middle we are just about getting it right.”