Hedgerows could be the gentle champions of nature recovery. Replacing fences with hedges, "gapping up" hedge holes and allowing hedges to become a little bit unruly, will help us meet our national, and international, target of 30% of land restored for nature by 2030. Hedgerows contain hundreds of different wild plants, provide shelter for nesting birds, small mammals and insects, and can capture and store large amounts of carbon.
Hedgerows have been part of the rural fabric of Britain since the Bronze Age, marking out boundaries and keeping in livestock. About half of Britain's hedgerows were grubbed up between the 1940s and 1990s, mainly in England, due to intensive farming and development. While the loss has slowed since the 1990s, and while hedgerows have received some legal protection, neglect, damage and removal remain big threats.
How are we doing in Hampshire?
A new study from the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology found that, excluding urban areas, the lowest densities of hedgerow are in Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire, where much of our farmland is used for industrial arable cultivation. What is being done to remedy this situation?
The government has promised to create or restore 48,000 km of hedgerows by 2037, and 72,000 km of hedgerows by 2050, under the new Environmental Improvement Plan released a year ago. Farmers are encouraged to apply for funding to "gap up", rejuvenate and create hedgerows. Under the Environmental Land Management Schemes, farmers are urged to cut hedges less frequently to allow flowering and seed or nut production, and allow the bases of hedges to become dense and wide, to provide cover for small mammals such as mice and shrews. Intermittently trees within hedges, such as hazel, hawthorn, oak and ash, are allowed to grow out and up to provide high perches for birds such as carrion crow and kestrel.
PeCAN will encourage our local authorities to support community groups to plant more native hedgerows as part of our urban green infrastructure. The Countryside Charity (CPRE) has pointed out that new jobs could be created in the planting and management of hedgerows with skills such as hedge-laying being re-learned.
You can learn how to plant and care for your hedge at Hedge Fest!
To encourage residents of East Hampshire to plant hedges, PeCAN have offered free hedging plants, for collection at our first Hedge Fest on Saturday 24 February at Petersfield Community Garden. The native hedging mix contains 65% hawthorn and other native species to create a traditional mixed hedge. Some or all of the following will be included: blackthorn, field maple, dogwood, crab apple, guelder rose, dog rose, and hazel. These will provide a diverse habitat, supporting a range of wildlife that feast on the fruits, seeds and nuts these plants will produce, and offering a natural foraging corridor for birds, insects and bats. The RSBP says that healthy hedges provide food and nesting habitat for up to 80% of our woodland birds.
If you plan to collect your hedge plants (funded by The Tree Council) and fruit trees (funded by East Hants District Council) from Petersfield Community Garden, you'll also be able to benefit from free workshops on how to plant and care for hedges and trees, how to prune, and how to sow wildflower seeds at Hedge Fest, from 10.30am-1.30pm.
The 2.7km of free hedge plants has already been claimed by residents, but you are still very welcome to attend this event to learn about planting and caring for hedges.
Collection points are in Petersfield, Alton, Liphook and Rowlands Castle (with demonstrations only on offer in Petersfield).