Hedgerows and hedges are an important feature in the British landscape and have been around for centuries, planted to divide the land into different fields and pens; marking the boundaries of farms and parishes and controlling livestock. Nowadays, hedges offer food and shelter for wildlife, provide historical and cultural links to the past and still act as boundaries and screens. However, recently they have become under threat from removal and poor management.
Hedging plants are important for both humans and wildlife. In terms of humans, hedgerows support the healthy functioning of the ecosystems around us by regulating things such as air quality, water purification and pollination. Hedgerows, like all plants and trees, help to manage air quality through the production of oxygen and removal of harmful gases. This is especially important in urban areas where more pollutant gases are released into the atmosphere. Hedges that act as a barrier between farms and fields, not only help to control livestock, but can reduce the amount of pesticides, fertilisers and eroded soils from the fields reaching water streams. When planted densely, hedgerows can also lessen the impacts of flooding by increasing infiltration rates and slowing water flows.
British wildlife benefits hugely from hedgerows, and with an estimated 73 million hedges and park trees across our landscape, it’s no surprise that they are the most widespread semi-natural habitat in the UK, providing food and shelter for a large variety of different invertebrates, birds and mammals. The loss of hedgerow trees, and lack of future management and replacement, may lead to a decline in certain wildlife if they cannot find flowers, berries and nuts to feed on or habitats to live in. As well as shelter and food, hedges also provide corridors for certain wildlife, such as hedgehogs and mice, to safely move through landscapes from one habitat to another.
The Woodland Trust is currently working to implement schemes and solutions to stop the decline in hedgerows and manage future growth more sustainably. Without this, there is the possibility of Britain losing a large part of its history and culture, and a huge number of wildlife losing both their homes and food supply.