The amount of times grass verges are cut in Norfolk each year has been reduced and could be decreased further - amid a move to triple the number of roadside nature reserves.

Council leaders want to add 188 new roadside nature reserves, to the 112 which already exist, providing more habitats for wildlife and insects.

The existing reserves were launched in 1995 by Norfolk County Council in association with Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

They have been shown to be home to rare native wildflowers, such as sulphur clover, pyramidal orchid and pepper saxifrage, as well as priority or protected wildlife including water voles and common toads.

Diss Mercury: A water vole. Pic: iWitness24/John AsshetonA water vole. Pic: iWitness24/John Assheton (Image: (c) copyright

And the council wants to create more of them, while also changing its annual grass cutting arrangements.

Cuts in urban areas have been reduced from five to four and rural cuts on C and unclassified roads has gone down to one cut.

It remains at two cuts on A and B roads, but the roadside nature reserves are cut separately from the usual programme.

And the council wants to provide more options for parish and town councils to take on responsibility for verge cutting as part of a change in policy, which could further reduce cuts in some areas.

Diss Mercury: Sulphur Clover at a roadside nature reserve. Credit: Norfolk Wildlife Trust.Sulphur Clover at a roadside nature reserve. Credit: Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

Council leaders say they want to balance safety - including the importance of verges not impairing visibility, with boosting nature.

A report, which will come before members of the council's infrastructure and development committee next Wednesday (July 14), proposes adding the new roadside nature reserves by 2024 and creating a new verge management policy.

That approach would fit with the council's pollinator plan, which says a thriving network of verges is helpful for insects such as bees, which play a crucial role in pollination.

Diss Mercury: Barry Stgne, chairman of Norfolk County Council's infrastructure and development select committee.Barry Stgne, chairman of Norfolk County Council's infrastructure and development select committee. (Image: Norfolk County Council)

Committee chairman Barry Stone said: "These plans are designed to help make our roadsides a real pollinator paradise.

“We’re clear that balancing safety and nature must be central to any new policy but we have a fantastic chance here to make some real changes for the better.”

In May, researchers from the University of Exeter published a report which highlighted how important verges are for nature, prompting Green councillors to call for more to be done in Norfolk.

Diss Mercury: Cut verges on the A149 near North Walsham.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYCut verges on the A149 near North Walsham.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY (Image: Archant Norfolk 2014)

Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group, said: "The need to improve habitats for pollinators and insects is really important, but so is the streetscape in urban areas.

"We really need to distinguish between cuts to services to save money and genuine efforts to improve the environment.

"Unless communities are involved, this could become controversial and a wasted opportunity to do good things."

He added that it was difficult for the Conservative-controlled council to say it was protecting the environment when it wants to build the £198m Western Link road through habitats.

The council has said it will mitigate for the loss of those habitats, but critics, including Norfolk Wildlife Trust, have questioned whether that is achievable.