The Importance of Hedgerows
Much of our landscape is defined by our hedgerows. Over 500,000 miles of them criss-cross the UK landscape like the stitching in a giant patchwork quilt. Most were planted to mark boundaries of ownership or keep animals in, or out of fields. But today they are valued for far more, indeed with the advent of wire fences their original use as a living barrier is often no longer the prime consideration. Today we can see their importance as perhaps the largest semi natural habitat in our country and wildlife corridor they provide through often quite barren areas of farm land. We can appreciate the importance they have for farmers and all of us who value our countryside.
A mosaic of ancient species rich hedges in Somerset
As many as 16 out of the 19 birds included in the Farmland Bird Index, as used by Government to assess the state of farmland wildlife, are associated with hedgerows. Over 125 priority BAP species are closely associated with hedgerows. All 35 woodland indicator species frequently occur in hedgerows or their trees. In addition, 10 out of 18 terrestrial mammals listed as priority species in the UK BAP make significant use of hedgerows, for food or to enable them to move through the landscape.
The rare Brown Hairstreak Butterfly
A hedge in good condition attracts a wealth of wildlife
A fieldfare feeds on berries during the winter period.
Overall, the length of hedgerow in GB has remained stable over the last decade. However during this period there has been a 7% decline in the number of classic shrubby hedgerows and a 9% increase in the number of hedgerows that have developed into lines of trees or relict features. This is having a significant impact on the landscape and reflects lack of appropriate management
Most of the UK’s hedgerows are in poor condition, reducing their ability to deliver environmental services and putting their dependent wildlife at risk. Local hedgerow surveys suggest that only 41% of hedges are in favourable condition even without taking nutrient enrichment into account, and the true figure is likely to be lower than this.
Types of Hedge
There are perhaps two main types of hedge, the ancient, species rich hedgerows of the South west, Wales, Herefordshire and Shropshire for example and the single species, Hawthorn hedges planted at the time of the enclosures that dominate the lowland central areas of England. Each type is very different from the other in the way they grow, the habitat they provide and the species that frequent them. But each share the same dynamic, successional desire to become a line of trees if left untended. In many ways hedgerows are similar to woodland edges. In fact if you think of the species that grow in them they are in fact thin, linear woodland edges. By managing them we holt that progression because we want dense bushy growth to keep our animals in or out. Yet equally if we over manage them by over trimming over a long period of time we put them under a great deal of stress and they begin to degrade.