Nice to check in last night on the progress of one of my small hedges which was planted in December 2012. These hedges were strategically positioned to improve connectivity between areas of good wildlife ground and also to provide cover for my grey partridge project. The benefits of a good, well-mixed hedge are hard to overstate, and I’ve written in huge detail on this blog about hedgerow planting over the past few years.
Suffice it to say for now that the hedge has made excellent progress over the past four growing seasons, and many of the thorn trees are now seven feet tall and more. The tallest of these will be lopped off this winter to encourage thicker growth, but the diversity of species at ground level suggests that these little projects were well worth the work. Three quarters of the hedge is made up of an even mix of hawthorn and blackthorn, but the rest is a hotchpotch mix of guelder rose, rugosa rose, dog rose, elder, field maple and crab apple. To get things really going, I also dug in some bramble stumps and tussocks of nettle which would almost certainly have colonised anyway but which provide such value at such small cost of energy and effort that it seemed worth a punt. A few stray raspberry canes were also thrown in, and these have provided a mass of fruit for the little birds this year.
Longer term readers might remember that this field was also home to a bee-friendly game crop for two years, and it’s surprising how much has lived on inside the new fence since the sheep were allowed to return. Oxeye daisies run riot, and there are sprigs of borage and essex red clover throughout the whole strip.
Like every other habitat work on this blog, we paid for these hedges ourselves without grant or subsidy, hence why we only plant small stretches when money allows. Paying for this particular 200 yard stretch gave us a freedom to experiment with all kinds of different species and techniques which would not have been formally endorsed by the box-tickers. Most importantly, we didn’t rabbit-proof the fence, preferring to use individual tree guards for every sapling and young plant. This was a crucial advantage, allowing game and rabbits to get in and out of the thick grass cover from day one.
It sometimes seems extraordinary how many hedges which are nominally planted for wildlife are then hermetically sealed in walls of rabbit netting. Rabbits and hares are a crucial part of my conservation project on the hill, and they need all the access to deep cover they can get on an area of the farm that is so heavily hammered by sheep that they are sitting ducks. Similarly, it makes no sense to create grassy margins which are ideal for partridges, then fence them out of it. Blackgame are less put-off by having to flutter over fences and in to low scrub, and I hope that the berry-bearing bushes will provide them with some value in a year or two.
Of course there are advantages to rabbit netting and the cost and effort of tubes is often off-putting, but it’s surprising how little thought goes into the planning and delivery of these conservation measures to achieve maximum bang for the buck.