Category Archives: Hedges and Biodiversity

British hedges

There’s a nice article about British hedges (which quotes from Hedge Britannia, as well as the classic Hedges, by Pollard, Moore and Hooper) at woodlands.co.uk – you can link to it here.

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How to make a hedgehog corridor

Nice article in the Guardian by Kate Bradbury, about what you can do to help your local hedgehogs.

It’s another reason why hedges are better than fences or walls, of course, and the base of the hedge also provides good foraging territory for a hedgehog – but as the article mentions, even if you have a fence you can dig a hole to help them get about.

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Unpaving your garden – from concrete to green…

I just saw this blog post, by Kate Bradbury, a gardener who chose to remove the concrete from her front garden. She’s quite right to note that the concreting of front garden space is one of the blights of our towns and cities. People do it to create car parking space, but when this practise is widespread, the consequence is a loss of biodiversity, and increased flood risk.

It’s not a point she makes directly, but it is also one of the causes of hedges being lost in towns – on its own a hedge may not seem like a hugely important ecosystem, but the cumulative effect of many hedges is to create habitats for small creatures, insects and bees, wildlife corridors, and the absorption of CO2. The more hedges we lose the more of these effects we also lose.

I love the idea of removing the concrete from front gardens where it is practical to do so – and ideally I’d also want to see more hedges being planted to replace the ones we have lost.

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Flail cutting – the environmental damage it causes

One of the most damaging post-war developments in hedgerow preservation was the increase in mechanised cutting of hedges, in particular using the flail. Here is a picture of a blackthorn hedge that has recently been flailed (picture by Donato Cinicolo). The damage is obvious.

Traditionally hedges were either trimmed or laid by hand. This was laborious work, but it was done with care and attention to the individual plants. Flail cutting means that hedge trees are repeatedly cut at the same point, this causes them to become gnarled and unhealthy, and can lead to a decline in the quality of the hedge (with resultant loss of biodiversity in the local environment). It also leads to a loss of mature hedgerow trees (as the older hedgerow trees die out and insufficient younger specimens are allowed to grow to maturity).

One can understand the problems farmers face in a more intensive farming environment – hedgelaying is the most effective way to maintain a hedge but is considerably more expensive than machine cutting.

There have been some improvements in the guidelines farmers follow when cutting hedges. The Tree Council suggest tagging trees to be allowed to grow to maturity, there are guidelines on how often a hedge should be cut and so on. However the most effective way of protecting our hedges would be to change the way that  subsidies for hedgelaying are administered.

Currently there are two government schemes encouraging good environmental practice to which farmers can belong. The schemes are called Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS). Subsidies for hedgelaying are only available to HLS members,  a scheme that is restricted to certain landscapes and areas, such as heathland, moorland, coastal land, wetland, and small woodlands, especially where these exist on or adjacent to Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

It would cost money to extend hedgelaying subsidies to members of the more common scheme, the ELS, but it would be a simple and effective way to direct help to hedgerows in all areas, and to foster the art of hedgelaying*.

These are difficult economic times, but if as a nation we are going to place obligations on farmers as stewards of the land, it is only reasonable that we sometimes share the costs involved. Hedgelaying is not a cheap or easy process, but it makes a huge difference to our environment.

*This idea was suggested to me by Robin Dale of the National Hedgelaying Society.

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Another Hedge of Many Species

This one is from Eaglescarnie Mains, a farm in East Lothian, run by Michael and Barbara Williams, also photos from my mum. It’s at least a couple of centuries old, going from maps, but given the variety of species it contains (including a bit of oak and horse chestnut) it may well be rather older than that.

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A Hedge of Many Species

As I keep mentioning, hedges have a valuable role to play in biodiversity, as they contain such a wide variety of flora and fauna, and provide cover and nutrition for many small animals, whether they be bird, mammal, insect or reptile.

The older the hedge, the more plant species it tends to contain (I’ve posted previously about Hooper’s Law which gives us a way of estimating the age of a hedge based on the number of woody species it contains). Here’s an example my mother found and photographed, a single rural hedgerow in Surrey (near Merrow), showing a wide range of species (with her identifications below):

Sycamore

Beech, viburnum, possibly some privet

Holly, sycamore

Berberis and ivy as well

Possibly some hazel…

And a bit more holly.

Of course that’s before you start looking at the plants at ground level, which are also often fascinatingly diverse, and again can tell us something about the age of a hedge (woodland plants tend to indicate an ancient hedge that was originally created as a remnant when the forest was cleared).

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How to help bees

Jordans, whose current advert features cute little talking hedgerow creatures, do at least seem to be putting their money where their mouth is in terms of conservation – they claim that they ask the farmers who grow their grain to turn 10% of the land into wildlife habitats such as hedgerows and their margins, which is definitely an excellent practise.

Anyhow, here’s a nice little piece on their blog about growing the right kinds of flowers to encourage bees.

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Hedges and bees – and the future of our crops

There is a good article in the Guardian (here) about research done by Northampton University’s Landscape and Biodiversity Research Group showing that bees use hedgerows to navigate around the countryside.

Of course we already know how crucial bees are for pollinating crops in general, and how disastrous it will be if our bee populations continue to fall. It may provide a lot of low-wage employment if we have to hand-polliinate our future crops, but large parts of our food chain are at risk if we lose the pollinating insects. It is also well known that hedges provide a good environment for insects, bees, and mammals and birds (who are often drawn there by the aforementioned flying and crawling animals as well as by the ground cover).

But it is fascinating to have proof that bees also use hedges as navigation routes. This is significant because it has also been shown that flowering plants close to hedges are more succesful at reproducing (especially those near to a meeting point of hedgerows). It’s yet more proof that the role of hedges in our landscape goes way beyond their heritage and aesthetic importance.

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“Juniper Toffee and Elderflower Delight”

Just a quick plug for John Wright’s lovely book on food from the hedgerow:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hedgerow-River-Cottage-Handbook-Wright/dp/140880185X/ref=pd_sim_b_1

He also has a nice wild food website here:  http://www.wild-food.net/page/home

If you happen to be in his part of the world he has a hedgerow ramble coming up, also mentioned on the site.

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Filed under Everyday Hedges, Hedge Politics, Hedges and Biodiversity

Trees for Cities (…and remember that hedges are trees too)

Trees for Cities are a nice charity who aim to help people to plant more urban trees, which is a great cause as trees make a big difference to the urban environment.

Their website is here: http://www.treesforcities.org/

It’s also worth bearing in mind that hedges are trees too. The individual plants may be humble compared to fully grown trees but they carry all the same environmental advantages and more – they provide shelter for birds, insects and other wildlife, they help to absorb CO2, filter pollution, reduce noise, and they soften the urban environment with a touch of greenery. In the average street there are far more trees planted as part of a hedge than fully grown.

One of the blights of my part of London is people pulling up their front gardens and hedges and concreting over them to create parking spaces. It’s ugly, environmentally damaging and increases flood risk by reducing the amount of soil that will absorb water. Urban hedges aren’t afforded the same protection as their country cousins, but in their own way they are just as valuable in their contribution to biodiversity and the environment. They’re not quite our version of the rainforest, but without them we’d be a lot worse off.

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