Managing hedges for wildlife

Date published: 05 September 2019

It’s time to think about your hedge management.

William Kennedy from Straid shows what can be achieved given a few years! He is standing beside his magnificent hedges planted under Countryside management Scheme funding a few years ago.

As the Environmental Farming Scheme has recently opened it is a good time to consider whether you want to plant new hedges, restore existing hedges on your farm or repair stone walls. All good hedges and walls benefit stock through shade and shelter, but they are also important for the landscape and for wildlife.

Tidy hedges are rightly a source of pride for farmers, but the age of the tractor flail has meant that hedges may be trimmed tighter and the fruit-bearing branches cut off before these edible fruits can be eaten by wildlife - such as insect larvae and many common birds like Blackbird, Thrush, Robin, Great Tit and Wren, but also more unusual birds such as the Yellowhammer.

Simple changes in cutting can greatly help your hedges and allow wildlife to prosper. Leaving 1/3 of your hedges uncut gives food for wildlife on rotation and maintaining thick hedges will allow wild animals to move safely and places to hide.

Good thick hedges also aid biosecurity between adjacent farms and also internally allowing the ability to separate animals successfully.

It is worth remembering hedge plants such as Hawthorne really are small trees that have been stopped from growing to their full height and spread and are being forced to grow into an unnatural shape. Our most common hedge plant, hawthorn could grow as high as 15 metres if growth is un-restricted – it does this to get light.

Cutting your hedge at an angle (and not vertically) allows light to reach all parts enabling thorn in particular to prosper and not die out.

The recently opened Environmental Farming Scheme allows you to plant new hedges but also if your farm hedges have become thin and sparse you can consider using this scheme to restore hedges by laying them.

Hedge laying involves partially cutting through stems close to ground level and bending them over to create a dense hedge. Gaps greater than one metre in the laid hedge must be inter-planted with suitable (mixed) hedge species. If your application to the Environmental Farming Scheme is successful and the work is completed to the required standard you will be paid to undertake this work.

If you are thinking of planting or restoring hedges or rebuilding stone walls on your farm or availing of the scheme for the many other options available – hurry. The scheme closes for applications at 5:00 pm on the 20 September.

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