A few days ago, I read an article in the Guardian newspaper on the importance of hedgerows (in England) for the climate, the wildlife and the heritage of the nation.
It centred around the findings of Rob Walton when he did a two-year survey of his hedge in 2011.
Having been challenged to spend a year documenting all the species he found there, be it plant, animal or fungus, he did just that for his Devon hedge 400 metres from his home.
He spent a few days on it every week, using a handmade net, a malaise trap and a light trap.
He was so interested by his findings that he continued for another year. All in all, he found over 2,000 species in the one hedge.
‘They are reservoirs of life,’ he declared.
There are estimated to be another thousand, at least, species supported by similar hedgerows all over the English countryside. 83% of his findings were insects.
His hedgerow was just 85 m long.
The Committee on Climate Change suggested that planting up to 40% (whilst Natural England recommends 60%) more hedgerows could dramatically reduce the carbon imprint for the UK 2050 net zero target.
It was also suggested (by the National Botanical Garden of Wales) that the UK needed more traditional, flower and native plant-filled hedges, to reduce the reliance of bees and other crucial pollinators on invasive plants and unnatural crops.
This is all in the UK. But in Ireland, there is a very similar situation.
In England, there is an estimated 500,000 km of hedgerow compared to 400,000 km of roads.
In Ireland, it’s about 300,000 km of hedgerow to 500,000 km of road.
We too have probable thousands of species in the hedgerows (though no exact survey has been done), as you can see if you look carefully, especially in Spring.
The hawthorn tree alone supports more than 200 species (see our blog post here). Planting trees like these in the hedges greatly enlarges the amount of biodiversity.
“They’re great for carbon, they’re great for wildlife and they’re great for a whole lot of other public benefits too,” Walton explained. We agree and this is definitely something that should be considered more here.
Hedgerows in England are often considered part of countryside heritage. But why just there?
Ireland is after all the ‘Emerald Isle’.
Emerald colouring does not come from pale grass in fields, it comes from the leaves of the thousands (7, 500 species of trees in Ireland, though not all of them are native) of different kinds of beautiful, life giving trees, much of which nowadays dwell in hedgerows.
Between the 1960s and 1980s almost 20% of hedgerows were dug out to make way for bigger farm machinery, and the traditional hedgerow was also being replaced with barbed wire and electric fences.
But we still have 300,000 km of hedges.
And in fact what needs to be done is not more action (although planting more hedges would be wonderful too), but less action.
Less destroying of hedges, less slashing of wildflowers on the verges, less cutting them as soon as the summer ban is ended (something we see a lot- farmers rush to chop them right down on the 1st of September – which means that birds and other animals go hungry for the rest of the Autumn because they are deprived of berries and fruits). This will mean more biodiversity, more wildlife in general, and much prettier hedges for us to see.
In England, the National Farmers’ union said that hedges should be allowed to grow wider and taller to allow for more biodiversity.
If only that was the opinion in Ireland!
I’m glad this survey was done, even if not in this exact country, and I hope it will continue to raise awareness on the many reasons for encouraging hedgerow wildlife.
After all, hedges are very important, and not just as compliments to other wildlife habitats.
“There is increasing recognition that within intensively farmed landscapes, much of the wildlife finds refuge in the hedges. But they’re much more than just wildlife corridors – they are really important as habitats in their own right,” Walton says.