autumn scene Jo Grundy

Jo Grundy

Hedges is an absorbing celebration of the ecology, biology and cultural history of the rich hedgerow heritage of the British Isles. Much of England is now intensively farmed, and in these landscapes hedges are often the only refuge for wildlife. As well as providing shelter, protection and food for animals, hedges also connect and bind together the patches of habitat that remain, as well as playing vital roles in soil conservation and flood protection. In short, they are vital for nature’s recovery.

In this book, Robert Wolton brings together decades of research, and also incorporates personal experiences from his Devon farm, to explore the ecology, nature conservation and wider environmental values of our hedges. From improving water quality and producing wood fuel as renewable energy, to use of hedges to boost crop pollination. This engaging and authoritative book will help to inspire people to value and look after our remarkably rich hedgerow heritage. The book features over 300 photographs.

The Conservation Volunteers offers a downloadable guide to hedgelaying, ideal for local volunteers who wish to plant or restore neglected hedges. As well as covering information on the history, value and law of hedges, it includes information on how to create and trim hedges. If planting near animal friends, read how to make your garden safe for pets.

Hedgerows are fundamental to the English countryside, and of course the natural home of hedgehogs and 130 important wildlife species, yet half have been destroyed on farms, due to modern methods of machinery, leaving just 450,000 lm left. Hedgerows are vital to protect the habitats of harvest mice, bats and roosting birds, as well as bees and butterflies, and berries that feed birds like yellowhammers and song thrushes.

Hedgerows also help prevent water run-off when it rains a lot, leading to more fertile topsoil, and providing a canopy of cover crops to help our farmers. Yet against we’ve almost 85% of topsoil in the last 100 years, which means soil is blown away in high winds and stores less carbon, which means more climate change risks. Also don’t forage for free food if you don’t know what you’re doing because it can remove food that wildlife needs (nettle leaves also are often home to baby ladybirds).

The most common hedgerow plants are hawthorn (loved by blackbirds and thrushes for the berries and a great home for hedgehogs, birds and toads). Wild cherry and elder are also popular (especially for voles and dormice, both endangered). Crab apple is also popular, as is sea buckthorn that is mostly found near the sea.

Farmers can help by leaving seed heads and leaf litter, and not trimming hedges from March to August, when birds and mammals are nesting. And farm organically (if all farmers did this, it would restore our hedgerows within a year or two).

The Winter Hedge: Walks in a Deep Lane is a lovely little affordable booklet (just 25 pages) asking us to notice hedges that shine with blackberries or brambles that snag a favourite garment. In this absorbing prose, naturalist Miriam Darlington walks one of her local Devon hedges in winter, each step paying close attention to the creatures who shelter in it and the plants that sustain them:

Rosy-purple twigs of dogwood, sleeping moths amongst the towering beauty of oaks, bark textures fresh and bare, lifting your mood, twig by knotty twig. Black ash knuckles. King Alfred’s cakes. Hart’s tongue ferns. The earth smells of old thorns, dog rose and ropes of dried honeysuckle…

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