Monday 19 March 2018

Nature thriving in the middle of the road

On many narrow country roads the centre strip remains untouched, becoming a long, skinny sanctuary
On many narrow country roads the centre strip remains untouched, becoming a long, skinny sanctuary

PICTURE, if you will, a narrow country road that has been newly surfaced. The virgin surface is pristine; but not for long. Being narrow it follows that vehicular traffic is unable to pull in tight enough on either verge to allow wheels to traverse the centre of the road.

While the sides of the road are subject to ongoing attention by the wheels of vehicles the centre strip remains untouched: a long, skinny sanctuary.

Grit, dust and silt from road use collects along this long, skinny island and together with its associated air and moisture this collection of rock particles of varying sizes has the makings of a primitive soil. Algae are probably the first colonisers to invade this new-found habitat. Mosses are quick to follow especially in depressions rich in damp silt.

Earthworms wandering under cover of darkness on damp nights stumble upon the mossy depressions and may find that the combination of enough dead plant material to feed on and space to hide in allows them to set up home there.

Algae and mosses die over time and together with earthworm droppings and autumn leaves they all contribute humus to the rapidly developing young soil. Rain, showers and spray from the wheels of passing vehicles all provide moisture and nutrients to nurture along the island life. Annual Meadow-grass will probably be one of the first higher plants to colonise followed by Greater Plantain, Daisy, White Clover, pearlworts and other such weeds.

At this stage the road surface will have started to break up due to the more or less perpetual dampness causes by the skin of vegetation and the never-ending attacks waged by plant roots trying to penetrate the hard surface.

Once the surface skin of the road has been penetrated deeper-rooted plants like Dandelion and coarser grasses move in. By this time, earwigs, beetles, woodlice and a host of other creatures will also have taken up residence and the centre of the road will support a complex community.

An entrance to a house or field necessitates that the wheels of vehicles have to occasionally cross this green median. When that happens regular contact between wheel tyres and the growing green community results in gaps in the green island.

Otherwise the long, skinny green island continues to thrive often growing to half a metre wide and tall enough to create a tinkling noise in summer on the undercarriage of a car passing overhead.

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