VAL BOURNE’S ORGANIC WILDLIFE
Hawthorn hedges have so much more to offer wildlife says Val
Why hawthorn hedges have so much to offer
“Many are eaten by migrating birds”
GARDENERS often ask me how they can have a more wildlifefriendly garden. One of the easiest ways is to plant a hedge, but it has to be the right hedge. My village contains lots of Portuguese laurel hedging (Prunus lusitanica), probably chosen because it forms a dense screen. It needs cutting at least three times a year, which would put me off, but more importantly it offers very little to insects although vine weevil and leaf-mining moths enjoy munching through the shiny evergreen foliage.
Others are wrestling with Leyland conifer hedges (Cupressus x leylandii) planted for their rapid growth. Finches and some birds like to roost in them admittedly, but few insects are attracted because the Portuguese laurel and the North American Leyland cypress are both non-native plants and don’t have a relationship with British insects that’s been built up over millennia.
You might be thinking not having many insects is a good thing. However, to achieve a balanced eco-system, you want lots of insects to sustain predatory insects and birds. If you plant a common hawthorn hedge (Crataegus monogyna) it could support more than 300 insects, according to The Woodland Trust. It’s also a particularly good food plant for moths caterpillars including the hawthorn, orchard ermine, pear leaf blister, rhomboid tortrix, light emerald, lackey, vapourer, fruitlet mining tortrix, small eggar and lappet moths. The Woodland Trust also tell us that dormice eat the flowers – though not in my garden sadly.
The flowers have a sweet cake smell and appear in May. They provide nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects and the resulting haws are rich in antioxidants. Many are eaten by migrating birds such as redwings, fieldfares and thrushes, as well as small mammals. The dense thorny foliage makes fantastic nesting shelter for many species of bird. It will need trimming once a year and I think late winter is best, after most of the haws have gone.
The best way to start a new hedge is to buy bare-root whips, which are sent out between November and March. Seek out UK grown hawthorn hedging because whips raised in colder parts of Europe do not flower at the right time and will be out of sync with our wildlife. Plant each whip 12in (30cm) apart and you should get a hedge after six years.
The ultimate wildlife hedge - common hawthorn - providing lots of haws
The flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects