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The Hedgerow Debate  

For many years we have been hearing about the decline in hedgerows and the adverse effect this has on associated species. This article outlines the importance of British hedgerows to the different species using them, why we have had a decline in hedgerows and what we are doing to prevent further decline of this important ecosystem.

A hedgerow consists of shrubs and bushes set out in a particular fashion, as to act as a boundary or defence between different areas. The hedgerow is a species rich habitat, not only providing lodgings, shelter, food, and protection against predators, but also acting as a barrier to erosion and a stabiliser for the soil. Not only do animals use this haven but also many plant species are found to favour this habitat. In association to the bushy hedge, ditches or banks can also develop along the hedge line developing the habitat further. A hedgerow not only provides a shelter away from the elements and a hungry predator, but also acts as a corridor between other habitats, from woodland to woodland, or from a urban garden to a local park. Many people associate hedgerows to the countryside, but let us not forget the hedgerows so common outside our front doors, along busy streets and housing estates. They all have great importance to the animals that live in them and more importantly rely on them for their survival.

So if these habitats are so important to British species, why are we loosing them? The decline in the agricultural hedgerow is mostly due to the following reasons;

  • Farmers creating larger fields, pulling up the hedgerows that are currently dividing their land into small areas

  • The removal of hedgerows and the replacement of wooden or wire fences

  • The use of herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers on the fields which spread into the hedgerows damaging their structure, growth and any species using the area

  • Overstocking the fields with livestock resulting in damage by over foraging on the plants and the loss of structure

  • Damage by the farmers ploughing right up to the base of the hedgerow causing a loss of marginal habitats and damage to the hedgerow

The loss of urban hedgerows is mainly due to a lack of management and care. If hedgerows are not looked after then the composition and structure of the plant species will change, therefore not providing a hedgerow habitat any more. Many urban hedges are removed through development, or are encroached on by pavements and concrete. We must remember that while change is necessary and urban areas must grow, habitats for our wildlife must remain and be looked after.

All is not lost however. The importance of this hedgerow habitat has been recognised and conservation efforts are in place to help control removal and protect the species that rely on them for survival. Financial incentives and advice are in place to encourage good management. The Hedgerow Regulations 1997 is in place to protect exceptionally species rich hedgerows and those of landscape, archaeological and historical importance. This does however only protect a small percentage of hedgerows in the UK and further action does need to be sought. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 has some regulations as does many other acts and organisations. Many new species rich hedgerows have been planted in recent years, creating new hedge lines or following the paths of older routes that have been taken away. Also many are now falling in to designated sites for wildlife and nature and have this protection. Together the British hedgerow is being given a helping hand.


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