Naked median

2008-11-10 00:00

The removal of the shrubs from the median of the N3 as it passes Howick has aroused considerable public concern. Many see these hedges as serving a useful purpose. They discourage animals, and the pedestrians who are the most frequent casualties on the roads, from making random crossings. They prevent illegal and extremely dangerous U-turns. They screen drivers from the glare of oncoming headlights. They won’t stop a heavy truck, but they could well check a lighter vehicle careering across the median. And they are aesthetically pleasing, which is a significant point in the scenic midlands and could well help to make a long journey more relaxed and safe.

The N3 Toll Concession (N3TC) that controls the highway is not convinced of the safety aspects of this particular section of hedge. Quite the opposite in fact, although the real test will surely come with the seasonal rush of holiday traffic. It must be hoped that the “dazzle screens” which are to replace the shrubs will be in place before that happens, and will then survive the depredations of thieves. Apart from the safety issue, the reasons provided by the N3TC for the removal of the hedge are hardly convincing. One is that the shrubs are encroaching on the roadway —apparently the regular cutting that has long kept them in check no longer serves. Another is that they are an alien species.

Enthusiasm for rooting out alien plants has become an excuse for all manner of botanical vandalism of late. There is virtually no corner of the planet populated exclusively by indigenous species. The point is whether the aliens are invasive and that has not been established in this case. The median of a modern motorway is in any event hardly a pristine ecological environment. Instead of the hedges that have for years softened the harshness of the roadside there are now to be ugly utilitarian screens, and it is the feebleness of the explanations that elevates a relatively trifling issue to a matter of real concern.

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