NAOMI FORD explains why our humble hedgerows are not just landscape features but essential for wildlife survival.
All hedgerows are good for wildlife. Not only do they provide food larders and some protection, most importantly they are habitat corridors.
These corridors allow animals to safely cross territories – vital in the breeding season or when the young are dispersing.
Many animals, plants and insects use hedgerows. Without them viable populations, which are key to species’ survival, would be under pressure. Some of these animals are rare like red squirrels and dormice.
Birds use hedges in a variety of different ways:
Blackbirds are often seen flying low over a hedge and this is so that they can quickly enter it should a sparrow hawk fly past.
Many species of birds are attracted by the diversity of hedgerow food sources:
These all provide food for smaller birds, which in turn attract the raptors that feed on them.
Older hedges are particularly good for insects because they tend to contain a large amount of dead wood. This is where the larvae and adults of many species live and feed.
Hedges tend to be warmer on one side and here you will find a myriad of other insects such as butterflies and bees which feed on flowers like roses or blackberries.
Some of these flowers pull in moths which in turn attract bats, some of which are endangered.
The myriad of different insects that live in our hedges provide a valuable food source for many other animal species.
Some hedges can be very old. To estimate the age of a hedge count the trees and large shrubs in an average 30 yard stretch. Multiply by 100 years for a rough age of the hedge.
So if your hedge has three trees then it will be around 300 years old.
A whole variety of plants, fungi and lichen are found in hedgerows and again many are rare or endangered.
In a way it is the plants which make up the basic structure of the hedgerow ecosystem, although most hedgerow residents rely on each other for survival.
Birds, mammals, insects and herptiles (reptiles and amphibians) all use hedgerows in one form or another and without our hedgerows we would lose many of them.
Although some hedgerows and the trees within them have some legal protection I feel this should be taken much further. Their protection should be paramount to protect what is one of our most valuable habitats.