Flora of Northern Ireland

Roads and railways


Lane at BallyvoyIn rural areas the roads are bordered by the field boundaries of the adjacent field and by a narrow grassy strip or verge. The hedges themselves have the flora typical of field boundaries, including wild roses, such as Rosa arvensis, R. canina, R. caesia and R. sherardii, which are often locally prolific.

RoadsideThe hedge banks can be interesting and important habitats for other species typical of field boundaries such as Orchis mascula in May, and other orchids later such as Dactylorhiza fuchsii and D. maculata. In May, many miles of roadside verge are white with hedge parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), while near the coast, Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) is another common wayside umbellifer.


There is little information on the flora of cuttings or embankments associated with motorways, but they may prove in time to be of value as reservoirs of plant biodiversity. An interesting phenomenon observed within the past twenty years has been the development of a linear population of Danish scurvy-grass (Cochlearia danica) along the verges of the motorways, associated with the use of salt in winter. This plant is otherwise exclusively associated with coastal rock outcrops.


RailwayA wide variety of plants grow alongside railways, or on embankments and the sides of cuttings. The greater mileage of railway routes in Northern Ireland have been abandoned, and such closed lines provide many kinds of local habitat including scrub and marsh. Some abandoned railway lines are well-known for particular species: e.g. a cutting at Milford, Co Armagh contains a large population of marsh helleborine (Epipactis palustris), and the former Co Down railway line south of Donaghadee is a refuge for the greater burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis) which was obliterated from the adjacent pastures by firstly agricultural practice and more recently by housing development. Working lines may also be known for particular species: the Larne - Whiteabbey line has a large population of tall melilot (Melilotus altissima) along its length, as well as a scattered population of goat's beard (Tragopogon pratensis).