Wednesday 22 November 2017

Species could die out with ancient hedgerows

Hedgerows connecting with scrub woodland in Co Leitrim
Hedgerows connecting with scrub woodland in Co Leitrim
Bullfinch in hedgerow
Brimstone butterfly, found in areas with buckthorn
Yew, the oldest living tree found in Ireland
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

THOUSANDS of kilometres of ancient hedgerow -- some of it up to 1,000 years old -- is in danger of being lost.

Experts have warned that the method of flailing hedgerow, or cutting the tops and sides off using industrial machinery, is weakening the hedges. Hedgerows were originally used to contain livestock and mark boundaries, but they are also an important habitat for a range of native species, Dr Declan Little from Woodlands of Ireland said.

About 300,000km of hedgerow is found countrywide, most of it planted about 350 years ago.

"The hedgerow network falls below the radar because they're not designed as protected areas," Dr Little said.

"They need to be rejuvenated. We have only 1.5pc of woodland cover, and hedgerows make up another 1.5pc, and it's important we don't lose them," he said.

The brimstone butterfly depends entirely on buckthorn, which is found in Mayo, Galway, Roscommon and in the midlands lakes.

Hedgehogs depend on hedgerows, while stoats and pine martens use them as highways. Finches, bullfinches, sparrows, blackbirds all depend on hedgerows for food and shelter.

Some of the oldest are in Wicklow around Glenealy and Rathdrum, and there are some in Killarney, Co Kerry.

They are a largely untapped source of food including blackberries, hazelnuts, fruit including crab apples and sloes -- used to make gin -- wild garlic, rocket and elderberries, which can be used to make wine.

A report on the state of hedgerows in 15 counties has been completed and will be available online. The Heritage Council will also advise people where they can find out about hedgerows in their area.

Irish Independent

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