Chris Packham’ s Hedgerow of the Year

What exactly is a hedgerow?

Well… there isn’t any one definition. Hedges, or hedgerows, can vary quite a lot; from the border around a garden, to the big, linear features in a landscape. They’re almost uniquely British – a product of our agricultural heritage with the side effect of being excellent for wildlife.

Hedgelink, a coalition of organisations passionate about hedgerows and chaired by the Tree Council defines a hedge as:

“A line of woody vegetation (shrubs and trees), often forming a boundary to a field or other feature.”

What makes a hedgerow a hedgerow varies depending where you are in the country, and what the land is like around you. Every hedgerow is different, as the variety of life they support. What we do know is – hedgerows are brilliant for biodiversity, and they need our help to be restored.

What makes a good hedgerow?

Hedgerows can be hustling, bustling veins of life running through the countryside. There are several features that make up a brilliant one, starting from the top…

The Top

When we imagine a good hedgerow, it’s typically a dense, bushy and diverse line of shrubs and smaller trees. One thing hedgerows really need is hedgerow trees. What they say on the tin; these trees stand out above the hedgerow line. They’re often mature and older trees, species like willow and oak. They’re brilliant for wildlife like birds and bats. In the future they’ll provide vital deadwood habitat for invertebrates.

The Middle

The bushy bit! The middle of a hedgerow is what we might think of as a traditional hedge. Here is where a dense tangle of diverse shrub and tree species makes a great hedge. Native species like Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Hazel and Field Maple with multiple stems and branches, make up the majority of the middle of a hedgerow.

The Bottom

Plants and wildflowers of hedgerows. The area underneath all the shrubs and trees making up a hedgerow can be a haven for lots of wildflowers and shade-loving plants.

Species like Greater Stitchwort, Lesser Celandine, Herb Robert, Red Campion, Cow Parsley and Dog-violets bring bursts of colour to the feet of hedges.

The Ground

Hedgerows very often mark boundaries of farmed fields. Whether it’s a field of crops or grazing animals, a margin in front of a hedgerow is a great feature for encouraging wildlife. Arable wildflowers can provide nectar for insects and seed for birds, and act as a buffer between the farmed area and the hedgerow.

Looking after hedgerows

In the last 75 years we’ve lost over half of our hedgerows in the UK. That’s 300,000 miles of hedges, and the life they support, gone from the countryside and the places we live.

Many of our hedgerows suffer from the wrong sort of management. They need just the right amount of attention; not too much, and not too little. When either happens, you can end up creating a Hedgewreck.

Latest Hedgerow Nominations

Hedgerow nomination

Nominated by: SED

Hedgerow nomination

Nominated by: danicapriest

Latest Hedgewrecks

Hedgerow nomination

Nominated by: fionaward

Hedgerow nomination

Nominated by: Chris Gannaway

Too much management

Many hedgerows suffer from over-trimming. Frequent and severe cutting or flailing can flog a hedge to death, and cutting at the wrong time of year can have dire consequences for wildlife.

Over-managed hedgerows are often:

  • Low and narrow. Lots of repeated cutting means the hedgerow can’t gain any height or lovely bushiness.
  • Scarred. Towards the top of the hedge you might see a ‘hard knuckle’. This is scar tissue which has formed after a hedge has been cut to the same height again and again.
  • Gappy. Individual shrubs have died after repeated cuts, and the bottom of the hedgerow is often sparse with only a few stems.
  • Bare. There’s little structure left to the hedgerow, and the ground and base is devoid of wildflowers and other vegetation.

Too little management

Believe it or not, it’s possible to under-manage a hedge. As well as being removed, or damaged, many hedgerows are simply fading away. Without management the shrubs making up a hedge will eventually grow up into trees. The density and structure that makes hedges so special will disappear.

Under-managed hedgerows are often:

  • All tall and leggy. Shrubs have grown taller with spreading tops, leaving little to no bushiness in the middle and bottom parts of the hedgerow.
  • Mostly trees. Old hedgerows will eventually become lines of trees without management. Once the trees die, the habitat is lost.
  • Gappy and increasingly sparse. As trees and shrubs die, the hedgerow loses its shape and density. Gaps appear and the complexity of a bustling hedgerow fades away.

Managing hedgerows just right

Managing hedgerows in the right way keeps them in their prime. By renewing, restoring and caring for a hedgerow, you’ll ensure it keeps getting bursts of new life and continues to be a haven for wildlife.

Managing hedgerows well involves:

  • Following a management cycle. Regular intervention is key for hedgerow management. Following a cycle, as recommended by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, stops a hedgerow from becoming over or under managed.
  • Cutting at the right time. Trimming at the back end of winter, before nesting season, means as many fruits and berries are left available for wildlife in colder month.
  • Not cutting in the same place. Increasing the height of a cut each year prevents hard knuckles from forming, and helps increase and maintain yields of blossom and fruit from shrubs.
  • Refreshing and restoring. Cutting, coppicing, reshaping and hedgelaying are all key tools in maintaining a brilliant hedgerow. The Tree Council provide excellent advice on Hedgerow Management.

In short – there are lots of things you can do to help create and maintain a brilliant hedgerow. You find find top hedgerow tips and advice from our friends at Hedgelink – a partnership between lots of organisations including the Tree Council and the People’s Trust for Endangered species.