A survey to health-check Britain’s hedgerows
The hedgerows that criss-cross our countryside are not only an iconic sight, but a vital habitat and corridor for many of our native species. However, they are becoming increasingly fragmented which is threatening the wildlife that depends on them.
So, this August, wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), is launching a new national survey, the Great British Hedgerow Survey, encouraging the UK to health-check the nation’s hedgerows in an attempt to safeguard the future of this important habitat.
The survey offers instant feedback about the health of each hedge, as well as tailored advice on what type of management will ensure it thrives in the future. The results also provides conservationists with vital data helping build a national picture of the health of Britain’s hedges.
The survey attracted the attention of BBC Countryfile, and earlier this month presenter Helen Skelton joined PTES’ Key Habitats Project Officer Megan Gimber and Dormouse & Training Officer Ian White in Warwickshire, to find out why hedgerows are in need of more wide-scale management. They explained what the new survey involves and why PTES is calling for people to take part.
Who can take part?
The Great British Hedgerow Survey is aimed at landowners, farmers, wildlife groups and anyone interested in healthy hedgerows, who are encouraged to complete hedgerow health-checks online.
Landowners and farmers already assess the health of their hedges to guide their ongoing management, but by taking part in this new Survey, they will receive detailed and tailored management advice which will introduce the idea of managing hedgerows in a cycle.
For wildlife groups and individuals, the website also provides a handy place to store and display the hedgerow data they collect. Taking part will contribute valuable information to a national dataset that will inform conservation decisions in the future.
Why should we care about hedgerows?
Historically we’ve lost about half our hedgerows since WWII. Although the rates of direct hedge removal have been reduced, we are still seeing the loss of hedgerows simply through the way they are managed.
Megan Gimber, Key Habitats Project Officer at PTES, explained:
“With 70% of UK land being agricultural, hedgerows offer the safest route for wildlife to travel across farmland. Sadly, many hedgerows are becoming gappy, which fragments this amazing network, and without more sensitive management, many hedgerows are at risk of being lost altogether. This is problematic, especially when we’re seeing a fall in numbers of the animals that depend on them, such as hedgehogs, bats, hazel dormice and song thrush.”
Hedgerows and wildlife facts
- One study counted 2070 different species in just one 85m stretch of hedge
- 55% of the priority species associated with hedgerows are dependent, or partially dependent on hedgerow trees
- Poor quality, gappy hedges are detrimental to several farmland bird species
- Since different shrub species flower and fruit at different times, having a wide diversity of plant species extends the flowering and fruiting period. This benefits nectar and pollen feeding invertebrates, and their predator species
- In Britain, habitat fragmentation is thought to be a limiting factor for the distribution of some species and a threat to the survival of others. Corridors play a vital role in the preservation of a number of species deemed to be ‘at risk’ from the impact of habitat fragmentation
- 16 out of the 19 birds included in the Farmland Bird Index, as used by government to assess the state of farmland wildlife, are associated with hedgerows
Healthy hedges benefit us all
The management advice PTES delivers is based on the lifecycle of a hedge because, like any other living system, they change over time and our management needs to adjust to reflect this. The ultimate goal is to create a thick, dense hedgerow with vegetation all the way to the floor and scattered with hedgerow trees, and it’s this type of hedge that most benefits nature, as well as landowners.
Healthy hedgerows reduce soil erosion as well as air and water pollution. They provide forage for pollinating insects, predators to keep crop pests in check and shelter for livestock, reducing deaths from exposure and improving milk yields. Hedges help us fight climate change through storing carbon, and also reduce the damage from flooding.
“The importance of well-connected, healthy hedgerows can’t be overstated, so it’s really important to protect them. Ultimately a well-connected network of hedges will help our native wildlife to survive and thrive.
We hope lots of people will be inspired to health-check their hedgerows and find out how they can best look after them both for wildlife and for healthy agricultural landscapes.”
To take part and/or find out more, visit: hedgerowsurvey.ptes.org
People’s Trust for Endangered Species is a member of the NBN Trust