It's crucial we care for our hedgerows
Hedgerows are perhaps the most prominent feature of our rural landscape. Not only do we depend on them for field and boundary divisions, but, when properly managed, they look great and provide low-cost, stock-proof fencing and safe corridors along which wildlife can travel.
A network of thick hedges linking small copses of woodland ensures food and security for wildlife, plus a host of plant species. Two thirds of our bird species nest in hedgerows, which also support bats, butterflies, hedgehogs and owls.
Despite extensive hedge removal in the 1970s, we still have approximately 300,000km remaining which are, in effect, linear woodlands and which are home to 37 species of trees and shrubs, 105 species of wild flora and cover approximately 1.5pc of our total land area.
The under-storey provides nesting sites for birds as well as seeds and berries, while hedgerow trees provide additional nesting spots and song posts and another supply of food.
Ditches, banks and verges provide yet more important habitat. Hedgerows provide us with wild food including many useful herb species, and we are so accustomed to their presence it is hard to believe that the majority of them are at most 250 years old.
Prior to the enclosure acts, most of our land was unenclosed commonage but trees, and especially native species, were more plentiful then.
The traditional farming practices in use in those days benefited wildlife which did not have to suffer from the pressures of intensive farming with its use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, the early cutting of meadows and heavy mechanisation.
We have lost thousands of hectares of wildlife habitat to roads and building and so it is more important than ever to ensure that we care for our existing hedgerows and safeguard their future.