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.
Just a quick plug for John Wright’s lovely book on food from the hedgerow:
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.
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.
In Ireland, hedges were planted to enclose “town lands” from the medieval period onwards. Known as townland boundaries, these are some of the most ancient and species-rich Irish hedges.
A recent survey of hedgerows in County Monaghan found that 12% of the hedges formed part of a townland boundary. More importantly it showed that where townland boundary hedges linked into native woodland they were much more likely to have a rich variety of species, including plant species less common in other hedges such as wood sorrel, ground ivy and hedge woundwort.
There’s a useful website about Irish hedges, with a good selection of links, here:
This is a nice initiative, helping to teach children about the variety of flora and fauna that can be found in our hedgerows.
(OMSCo is the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative).