Woman's Weekly (UK)
Celebrating Britain: Our heavenly hedgerows
Our countryside boundaries are not only beautiful, theyÕre a haven for wildlife too
Nothing sums up spring better than a lush hedgerow dotted with flowers, buzzing with insects and chirruping with birdsong. As well as hosting a rich and varied
provide mix of flora and fauna, hedgerows a life-support system for an abundance of different creatures.
One study recorded more than 2,000 different species in just 85m of hedge in Devon. And, according to the RSPB, our hedges may support up to 80% of woodland birds, half of all mammals and 30% of butterflies. United Nations World In support of the
March Wildlife Day, taking place on the 3
and to raise awareness of wild animals plants, here are some fabulous reasons
and to celebrate and preserve these vital
beautiful countryside. iconic features of our
As the days brighten, so do our hedgerows. From nodding bluebells to buttery primroses and red campion, hedges provide a glorious tapestry of colour, not just for us to enjoy, but for wildlife too.
✣ Hedgerow flowers belonging to the cow parsley family, such as wild angelica, hogweed, water dropworts and wild carrot, are particularly beneficial, since their large flowerheads are laden with nectar, providing a magnet for pollinating insects.
✣ Hedgerow herbs and shrubs also provide a handy snack for farm animals, and can even be a source of natural medicine. Cows and sheep, for example, are known to munch on the rough leaves of plants like hogweed to get rid of parasitic worms.
An enormous 70% of our landscape is made up of farmland, so hedgerows are often the only available home for huge numbers of invertebrates, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, including grass snakes, common lizards, slow-worms, hedgehogs, voles and shrews. These populations in turn provide food for other creatures like barn owls and kestrels, as well as weasels and stoats.
You may not be able to tell just by looking at one, but hedges act as animal highways, making it much easier for creatures like bats and dormice to move freely and safely across the countryside to roost, breed and forage.
Sadly, since World War Two, far more hedgerows have been removed than planted, due to development, modern farming methods and poor management.
In some parts of the country, 50% of hedgerows have disappeared, contributing to the steep decline of many plant and animal species. Fortunately, hedgerows are now legally recognised sites of biodiversity and there are grants available to encourage their planting and protection.
Hedges are a haven for birds, providing nesting material, food and protection from predators.
At least 30 different species of bird nest in hedgerows. Some, like wrens, robins, linnets, dunnocks and white-throats, prefer the lower shrub layer, while others, like song thrushes, blackbirds, chaffinches, willow warblers and greenfinches, can be seen higher up.
Hedges are also a bumblebee paradise, especially in early spring, when trees and shrubs such as willows, cherry, hawthorn and blackthorn provide nectar for emerging bumblebee queens to feed upon, when there’s little else around. Later in the year, early autumn flowers enable new queens to build their fat reserves to survive hibernation.
Butterflies and other flying insects also use the shelter that hedges provide to enable them to fly.
Why hedgerows matter
Hedgerows were traditionally used to mark out boundaries, dating right back to the Bronze Age, and many of today’s hedges have been around for hundreds, even thousands of years. Today, this network of living history plays an important role in the environment, helping to prevent soil erosion, and reduce flooding and pollution.