One of the best things you can do on a farm or smallholding to encourage wildlife is plant or maintain species-rich hedgerows.
It’s hard to imagine the landscape of Britain without hedgerows and in fact, there used to be a lot more of them. Following the Second World War, with government policy recommending hedgerow removal and larger machinery becoming more regularly in use in farming, hedgerow loss is reported at a rate of 3000 miles a year. It is estimated that since the 1950s, hedgerow length has halved in the UK.
Hedgerows are of great importance to wildlife in a farmed landscape. Hedges are a source of food, shelter and nesting sites and a safe corridor to move around the landscape. At least 30 species of bird nest in hedgerows, with different species favouring different types of hedgerows and even different heights within the same hedgerow, creating a ‘high rise flat’ of nesting sites. Bats are known to use hedgerows as guidelines for navigating while hunting and standard trees in hedgerows may be used for roosting. Additionally, over 1500 species of insects have been recorded using hedgerows.
As well of being of benefit to wildlife, hedgerows can also increase productivity of a farm. New studies are emerging describing the benefits of hedgerows as a source of predatory insects that can even eliminate the need for pesticide use on crops. Hedges also support pollinating insects. A mature hedge provides nesting and roosting sites for predatory birds who can help control rodent populations on a farm. Hedgerows act as wind breaks, sheltering crops and livestock and preventing soil erosion.
A high-value hedge contains 10-15 different shrub species and is 4-5m wide, with associated climbers and ground flora in the base of the hedge. If you would like to find out the quality of your hedge, the DEFRA Hedgerow Survey Handbook will help you. For guidance on how to create a wildlife-friendly hedge, you can follow the links below.
PONT’s vision is to promote environmentally sustainable grazing practices which deliver multiple benefits for wildlife and people now and into the future. Contact us to find out more.