How to maximise wildlife friendliness in a hedge
One of the key reasons for having a hedge is to give a home, shelter, and food to wildlife so it stands to reason that some people would want to really max out on the amount of wildlife friendliness their hedge provides and there are some very simple steps to do this.
- Plant thick and let the hedge thicken even more. You will not get much wildlife (birds or mammals like hedgehogs) in a thin (from back to front) hedge but the amount of wildlife using a hedge will dramatically increase in thicker hedges. Sparrows, robins and wrens prefer a hedge that is thick at the base because this provides the cover they like for scratching about in the darker areas for insects, especially in winter when the surrounding ground is frozen but the bottom of the hedge remains unfrozen and the carpet of dead leaves and fallen fruits provides an essential food source when birds and other small mammals need extra food to maintain their body temperature. Game birds, especially pheasants, will use the cover of a hedge with a good wide base to shelter in. A good thick hedge can be 1C warmer than the middle of an arable field and that can benefit all wildlife in cold spells
- Allow the hedge to grow tall – much as a thick hedge provides shelter to more birds and mammals, so too does allowing a hedge to grow tall. A tall windbreak hedge (planted to sit across the direction of the prevailing wind) also provides greater shelter on the leeward side whether that’s for sheep and baby lambs or birds and small mammals. Songbirds like blackbirds and thrushes sing from the top of the hedge, nest in the middle of it and scratch about in the bottom for snails, seeds and insects. Taller hedgerow trees provide higher vantage points for pigeons and doves.
- Don’t be too tidy. Many of the species that are commonly found in hedging including Hawthorn (which is in 60% to 70% of farm hedges) and Blackthorn (found in over 10% of farm hedging) flower on old wood so if you trim every year you reduce the flowering and berrying capability. So, either trim every second or ideally every third year, or trim one area but leave another area untrimmed. Apparently if you trim every 3 years your hedgerow will have 3.4 times the amount of berries of an annually trimmed hedge.
- Leave the verge a bit untidy too for the same reasons as in 3.
- Plant lots of species. It is common to start a mixed native hedge with 5 species (Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Hazel, Field Maple, Dog Rose are the stalwarts) but the more species you include in a hedge the more wildlife you will benefit. Some species of moth or butterfly are only found on one individual species of plant and generally the more diverse the range of plants, the more wildlife. We call this a species-rich hedge and you can choose from a large number of suitable species which are all shown in our hedging section.
- Plant hedgerow trees or allow one hedge plant every 6m to grow into a tree. Some birds need nesting sites or perches higher than hedge height – again, if you vary the types of hedgerow tree you will attract more wildlife.
This blog is about using hedging to attract wildlife but we are very aware that hedging is also needed to provide a stock proof boundary and that priority often trumps wildlife value. Where a stock field is beside a lane or road that is not bordered by another stock field we recommend a hedge with two distinctly different faces. You can plant a hedge with a double staggered row where the inner row (to the field side where the animals are kept) is only hawthorn planted densely and trimmed to keep it growing tight, and the other row planted up to 1m away can be all the species of hedging plant that are so good for wildlife with much less proportion of hawthorn than is usual in a mixed hedge. This row of hedging plants can be allowed to grow taller with infrequent trimming.
So, to conclude, it’s not rocket science – when it comes to hedges and wildlife, basically more is more – more height, more width, more species, more growth = more wildlife.
If anyone has any other thoughts or information on this topic please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add it to our blog for the benefit of other readers.