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Hedgerows are one of our most easily encountered wildlife habitats and are a vital part of our landscape. We are witnessing a dramatic reduction of healthy hedgerows in the UK and we want to share why these hidden habitats need urgent protection.
What are hedgerows:
Hedgerows are strips of woodland edge habitat. Coming in many shapes and sizes, hedgerows range from narrow strings of closely trimmed scraggy hawthorn bushes sparse in wildlife, to thick bushes, tangled with dog rose, bramble and honeysuckle and overtopped with mature trees. Often the only link between other isolated patches of wildlife habitat scattered across the landscape, thick, flora-rich hedges provide valuable nesting and foraging opportunities for a huge range of wildlife.
Why are they important?
There are many reasons why hedgerows are vital to our landscape and one of the most important is the essential role they play in supporting our wildlife. Hedgerows support up to 80 per cent of our woodland birds, 50 per cent of our mammals and 30 per cent of our butterflies. The ditches and banks associated with hedgerows provide habitat for frogs, toads, newts and reptiles. As a mixture of woodland, scrub and grassland, hedgerows contain a wealth of different plant and animal species, and across large swathes of the countryside are an essential habitat and refuge for the majority of our farmland wildlife.
Increasingly, they are valued too for the major role they have to play in preventing soil loss and reducing pollution, and for their potential to regulate water supply and to reduce flooding. Hedgerows act as a barrier at the margins of farmer’s fields to prevent this soil from being lost.
Similarly, keeping the land covered with the canopies of hedgerows, trees, and cover crops, helps farmers reduce the impact that direct rainfall has on the land. What's more, the deep root structures of hedges and trees on farmland also help to keep soil firmly in place, reducing the risk of it being blown away and eroded during dry months and high winds.
Hedgerows are also a key tool in the fight to slow down climate change because the healthier soils they support store more carbon. The impacts of erosion on unhealthy soils means that they can quickly become a source of carbon dioxide emissions, so by maintaining good root structures and covering the land through hedges and trees, farmers can help develop stronger, more fertile soils.
Support & further reading:
+ GOV Guidelines: Countryside hedgerows: protection and management
+ Woodland Trust: Hedgerows & Hedgerow Trees
Image credits: Royal Academy of Arts, National Geographic & The Washington Post