Hedgerows are important for Nature

So why do organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts, the Tree Council, the Woodland Trust and the RSPB all extoll the importance of hedgrows in our landscape?  Hedges are more than an essential refuge for wildlife. Small but mighty, they also clean our air, capture carbon, reduce flooding and give clues to historic land management. In Froyle most rural hedgerows follow the field boundaries shown on the 1847 Tithe Map and are likely to have been hedges for hundreds of years.

Upper Froyle view winter (above)             Lower Froyle view autumn (below)

There are an estimated 500,000 miles of hedgerow in Britain which could be looked on as our largest nature reserve. Hedges come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can include many different species. Rural hedges are often a mix of shrub and tree species, such as hawthorn, blackthorn, spindle, hazel, ash and oak. In more urban and landscaped settings, they are likely to include species like box, yew, privet and holly.

They provide wildlife corridors through a farmed landscape to connect habitat areas. 130 nationally rare species are closely associated with hedges including lichens, fungi and reptiles. Many more use them for food and shelter during some of their lifecycle. Bank vole, harvest mouse and hedgehog all nest and feed in hedgerows as well as birds, while bats use them as ‘commuter routes’ for foraging and roosting.

Some species of birds depend on hedgerows for their survival. At least 30 species nest in hedgerows. According to the RSPB several of these, such as bullfinches and turtle doves, prefer hedgerows more than 4m tall, with lots of trees, whereas whitethroats, linnets and yellowhammers favour shorter hedgerows (2–3m) with fewer trees. Dunnocks, lesser whitethroats and willow warblers prefer medium or tall hedgerows with few trees.

Wrens, robins, dunnocks and whitethroats usually nest low down, but song thrushes, blackbirds, chaffinches and greenfinches nest well above the ground level. Grey partridges use grass cover at the hedge bottom to nest. It is therefore important to manage for a range of hedge heights and tree densities and to maintain a grassy verge at the base of the hedge.

Redwing (photo right) in a Froyle hedgerow
Grassy hedge bottoms and field margins provide nesting material and insect larvae for chicks to feed on. Wild flowers and grasses growing up into a hedge also help to conceal nests from predators. In winter, hedgerows can be feeding and roosting sites for resident birds and winter visitors such as fieldfares and redwings.  Conservation organisations say that no cutting should take place during peak bird nesting season, which runs from March to September. Where possible, delay any maintenance work until January or February, as hedgerow berries provide a valuable autumn and winter food source for birds.

The Wildlife Trusts advise that rural hedges should not be cut every year, as flower buds often form on second-year growth. Trimming hedges on a two or three year rotation, targeting different sections each year, will make sure there are always flowers for pollinators in spring and berries for birds in autumn. Hedges cut every three years can produce two and a half times as much blossom as those cut annually. Rotational cutting can also save time and money that would be invested in annual cutting. The main message for hedges in the landscape is that ‘Big and Blousy’ is better for wildlife than ‘Neat and Tidy’.

Acknowledgment: Some of the text above was copied from information sources.