Why hedgerows matter

Hedgerows are an undervalued resource and are in danger of being lost from our towns, cities and countryside. They offer us countless benefits, from boosting biodiversity, absorbing carbon and improving air quality to improving our wellbeing, cooling our cities and forming a key part of our cultural heritage.
Britain’s hedgerows stretch over 700,000km – 1.5 times the distance to the moon! – but in the last 75 years the UK has lost 50% of its hedgerows, and what we do have left is being removed and mismanaged at an alarming rate. They form the UK’s largest wildlife habitat and have a crucial role to play in halting biodiversity decline and tackling climate change. Our relationship with hedgerows needs to change urgently as we face up to the dual biodiversity and climate crises in the coming years.
For them to have a healthy future, hedgerows need the support of a range of people and organisations, from farmers and planners to environmentalists and local communities. Through our work with Hedgelink and the Close the Gap partnership, The Tree Council aims to protect and conserve our hedgerows for the future.

Hedgelink

The Tree Council are chair of Hedgelink, a coalition of organisations passionate about Britain’s hedgerows. The group brings together everyone interested in hedgerows to share knowledge and ideas, encourage and inspire, and work with farmers and other land managers to conserve and enhance hedgerows across the country.

As a partnership, Hedgelink offers help and support for all those with an interest in hedgerows and works to influence policy and public expenditure to protect hedgerows for the future.

Close the Gap

The Close the Gap programme focuses on achieving bigger, healthier, better-connected hedgerows through planting and ‘gapping up,’ gathering and sharing knowledge, improving supplies of future hedgerow trees and engaging the public with our hedgerow heritage.

The project is funded by the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund, which is being delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England and the Environment Agency. Project partners include The Tree Council, the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, Moor Trees, the University of Reading, Future Gardeners and Hedgelink.

Planting hedgerows

There are no real do’s or don’ts of hedge planting – be as experimental as you like, but follow a few basic guidelines.
  • Plant vigorous plants like blackthorn, plum and hawthorn towards the back of your hedge. Try growing things that scramble like vines, blackberries, wild roses and raspberry canes through this and plant fruit bushes like currants and gooseberries to the front or on the south facing side.
  • Plan to plant your hedge in the winter when plants are dormant, this means they will have time to settle in and put down roots before they come into leaf in the spring.
  • Plant in staggered rows with plants about 30cm apart and think about the space you have available – your hedge can be as long as you like and anything from 60cm to 2 meters wide depending on how many rows of hedging plants you plant, but remember if you want to pick the fruit you need to make it accessible.
  • Use spiral guards or protect the hedge with netting if you are planting in an area with rabbits or other animals that are likely to chew the bark or eat the young plants.
  • You can also plant fruit trees in your hedge – try apples, pears and cherries as well as nuts like hazel, walnut and almond.

Once you have planted your hedge it will need a little looking after, particularly in its first couple of years.

Mulch around the base of the hedge with wood chip to keep down weeds that compete for water and water in dry spells particularly in the spring and early summer in the first year.

Remove any guards or netting after a few years when the hedge has established and let the bottom of the hedge fill with weeds and wild flowers that are also great for wildlife.

If the backbone of your hedge is made up of woody shrubs like blackthorn, mirabelle and hawthorn, these will need to be cut back in the autumn or winter when the hedge is dormant and when there is no risk of disturbing wildlife.

To maximise fruit production and wildlife value and create a truly wild hedge –  cut the hedge back on a 2 to 4 year cycle rather than trim every year.