Why are Hedges Important?
Apart from acting as boundaries and keeping animals inside fields, the hedgerow is an important habitat for a wide variety of animal and plants. As the woodlands have been destroyed over the years, the wildlife in them has become adapted to living in the hedgerows. Animals such as foxes and badgers use hedges as ‘roadways’ for getting from one wood to another – wild animals do not like crossing open fields.
If fields are unprotected by a barrier of hedges, the wind can erode (blow away) the valuable top soil – this has proved a problem in East Anglia where large prairie-like fields have been created by removing hedges.
Dos and Don’ts of hedge maintenance
1. Cutting: a hedge has to be looked after if it is to be useful. The traditional craft of hedge laying is rarely seen these days mainly because it takes much longer than a mechanical hedge-cutter. Layering is the best method of maintaining a hedge – the stringer stems are cut half way through then laid almost flat and other stems are twined around them. A well laid hedge grows thickly and only needs a little annual trimming for several years. If hedges are cut by machine it is best done every three years at the end of autumn, to give the birds a chance to eat the berries and seeds. This also lets the hedgerow plants flower in the spring. Quite often, mechanically cut hedges are flat-topped and a boring shape. They are much more interesting and useful to wildlife if some of the saplings (young trees) are allowed to grow tall.
2. Spraying: If herbicides (weed-killers) or insecticides are sprayed onto hedges these may kill the plant and animal food on which birds and small mammals rely. In short, the effect is that the whole hedge is useless to wildlife. Unfortunately, this sometimes happens when farmers are spraying crops in their fields.Read More: Conservation of Hedges - How can you help?