Hedgerow Versus Berm, Win-Win

Phoebe Weston is back in our pages with a story about the importance of a seemingly prosaic part of the old UK landscape–hedgerows.

Young dormice photographed by ecologist Rob Wolton during a two-year study of his hedge in Devon. Photograph: Robert Wolton

She covers their prospective role in meeting net-zero targets and the video above is an excellent primer on that. The details in her article below about Rob Wolton’s investigation of his own hedgerow is fascinating.  I am interested in the topic as much for the biodiversity implications as I consider whether my berms should all remain berms, or if some portion should become hedgerow:

‘Reservoirs of life’: how hedgerows can help the UK reach net zero in 2050

They store carbon and are havens for wildlife – it’s no wonder experts are calling for Britain’s hedge network to be extended

A dunnock’s nest containing eggs in Rob Wolton’s hedge. Thrush and bullfinch also made their homes in the hedgerow. Photograph: Robert Wolton

One New Year’s Day, ecologist Rob Wolton came up with an unusual resolution – to spend the next 12 months studying a hedge 40 metres from his house in the middle of Devon. He wanted to make a list of every plant, animal and fungus that used it. Why? Because a wildlife-enthusiast friend challenged him to do it during a long car journey.

“I thought it would take a year, but at the end of the first one I was still finding masses of new species so decided to carry on for another,” he says.

That was 10 years ago. After two years of observations he had found 2,000 species – far more than he imagined. Not everyone’s idea of fun (even in lockdown), it’s perhaps not surprising that such a detailed study of a single hedge has not been done before or since. Wolton says he enjoyed it hugely and his findings contribute to the growing body of evidence that humble hedgerows should not be overlooked.

“They are reservoirs of life,” he says. “We’re so big, that when you walk past a hedge, you see very little. If you were an ant or something, you would see a vast array of life … It’s only when you look closely that you find all this stuff. And it’s an extraordinary amount of stuff.”

The UK is one of the most hedge-dense countries in the world. These ecological hotspots are the seams of the country’s “patchwork quilt”. There are 500,000km of hedgerows (compared with 400,000km of roads) and there are signs this quintessential feature could grow. “Recently there’s been quite a lot of policy interest in hedgerows here in the UK,” Jo Staley, a hedgerow ecologist at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, told the Oxford Real Farming Conference in January. “There are some strong policy drivers coming through for potentially expanding hedgerows.”…

Read the whole article here.

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