Dorothée Labarraque
Responsable technique et Innovation - Activité Environnement & Énergie
Published on June 16, 2019

Reading time : 3 min

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A28, a motorway helping out nature

Since 2005, Routalis has been maintaining and improving the services provided by its natural spaces. In particular, it adopted “chemical free” practices 12 years before legal requirements came into force. This delivers results, provides benefits to the community and collectively we can do even better!

Routalis operates the A28 motorway in France between Alençon and Rouen. The company was very prompt to adopt a sustainable development charter, which today revolves around five main chapters:

  • Providing customers with a safe and pleasant journey
  • Being a responsible employer
  • Taking care of our environment
  • Being a good neighbour
  • Constantly reporting back and improving.

In 2016, Egis carried out an audit of the A28 motorway roadsides and their management practices on behalf of Routalis. The aim was to find out more about the natural assets under its responsibility, but also the interactions of the motorway with the land through which it passes. Finally, it provides an opportunity to identify the actions to conduct in partnership with other local stakeholders, connected with local development and biodiversity.

How were the services provided by roadsides assessed ?  

For each of the different spaces, the following were identified:

  • Land occupation
  • Third party access conditions


Qualification of adjacent land:

  • Land occupation
  • Social and economic context


The different motorway stryctures

Regulation services

Global climate
Roadside ground and vegetation store carbon, and this sequestration increases in wetter environments and with more developed vegetation.

Local climate
Hedges play the role of a windbreak and, if used to border crop fields, can increase productivity; yield can be 5 to 30% higher than a situation without edge.

Air quality
Forests, single trees and hedgerows contribute to air purification by filtering or eliminating several pollutants and particulates contained in the air.

Water quality
Artificial ecosystems, used in conjunction with multifunction basins, contribute to water purification.


Plant cover protects soil and motorway verges.

The motorway is bordered by farmland. Some crops depend on pollination (for example rape seed). The service provided is more beneficial if the farmland around the motorway is relatively non-diversified (row crops, few hedges, etc.).

Biological control
Ecosystems can have an effect on the spread of illnesses and crop and livestock pests. The quality of the environments and the way land is managed (chemical free) contribute to this benefit.


Production services are more limited (e.g. small cider apple orchard). Several spaces offering opportunities were however identified, and the search has begun for partners in areas such as wood or mowing.

"Recreational" services are restricted to services and rest areas, as the majority of natural space around the motorway is closes to the public.

Specific case of flower meadows

In 2013, two flower meadows were introduced at the Orbec junction and at the Brionne service area. At Orbec, three beehives were installed near these meadows to allow bees to benefit from their nectar and pollen.

An inspection of the seeds concluded that floral compositions provided nectar benefits to pollinators. To improve the pollination service, several criteria are taken into account such as floral diversity, floral morphology and phrenology and the quantity and quality of resources supplied (nectar, pollen) and their local origins.

Good practices worth sharing

The “chemical free” policy guarantees more abundant and diversified fauna and flora. This biodiversity is the foundation for all benefits that ecosystems provide.

  • As far as possible, mow grassed areas late in the year (outside bird reproduction periods), and cut reedbeds every three years.
  • Mowing land and leaving the cuttings on site helps to increase the carbon content of soil.
  • Increase the practice of hibernacula, leaving cuttings on-site which become places of shelter for small wildlife during hibernation and provide food for some insects.
  • In ponds and basins, conduct upkeep outside periods of biological activity of the wildlife, in particular species dependent on wetlands (amphibians, insects, shellfish).
  • For floral meadows, select mixes of flowers with a range of shapes, and offering high honey potential: avoid using exotic plants and prefer seeds labelled as "local".

Published in November 2015, the opinion of the General Environment and Sustainable Development Board on the Transport Act (LOTI) assessment emphasises the quality of environmental monitoring undertaken over the years.

Why care about the services provided by roadsides?

In France, motorway roadsides cover a cumulative surface area of more than 6,000 km², equating to the size of an average French department. In addition to their specific functions (water drainage for example) and road functions (safety, visibility), they also provide landscape and ecological functions and interact with natural environments and neighbouring populations.

In the future, these natural spaces can be managed differently, with a “joint property” approach. The motorway operator can reinforce its role as a local stakeholder. This is the ambition of Routalis, which wishes to work with other stakeholders to proactively bring about initiatives in biodiversity, food production, economic and social activity in areas which are still to this day “abandoned”.


Several areas for action

  • Capitalise upon the food resource available on roadsides to maintain hard-to-reach zones through grazing.
  • Working with the interested sectors, increase production of biomass
  • Make the zones with the most wildlife accessible to educational or scientific initiatives
  • Exchange with the farming world to gradually adapt hedgerows and flower meadows to its needs

Did you know?

Between now and 2020, natural capital will be incorporated within domestic accounting. This is the second Aichi biodiversity target on the integration of biodiversity values into national accounting systems. Good practices in the area of biodiversity will contribute value to this capital. Working together to improve knowledge of biodiversity present in their perimeter will enable each territorial or economic player established next to the motorway to take account of it when reviewing its activities.

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