Why lay a hedge?

As shown in last Friday’s blog, we laid the hedge that runs along the side of the path by Mary’s Gate. I left you with the sight of our finished product; a neat and tidy, laid hedge.

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But, I had to cut the post off before explaining the benefits laying a hedge. Well, you’ve come to the right place to find out why we (Wednesday volunteers, Andrew from St Cyrus, Ruari from Tentsmuir, Torquil the hedge layer, Jeremy, and I) went through the process of laying such a thorny, spiky hedge!

To start off with, why was the hedge so thorny and spiky? The hedge we laid was made up of Hawthorn, Dog-rose, Hazel, and Beech. This mix of species is excellent for increasing the biodiversity of the hedge. Not only do we now have more species of shrub, but we will have more species of invertebrates and fungi, as different bugs and fungi like different plants to feed on and live in.

The provision of food such as the Hawthorn berries and plentiful insects means that animals further up the food chain will find the hedge a good place to live in as well. Birds such as Whitethroats like to nest in hedgerows, whilst Bank Voles will tend to stay at the bottom of the hedge.

Considering where hedgerows are often found (by farmland), they can be a sheltered spot for one of the rarer birds found around Loch Leven, the Grey Partridge. This species has declined significantly due to agricultural intensification and the removal of hedgerows that they use for cover. Funnily enough, when moving material from Torquil’s trailer to the site I flushed a pair of Grey Partridge from that field which is a good sign!

This particular hedge has kindly been given a little strip of land next to it by the farmer that isn’t ploughed or planted on, called a headland. These headlands are great for wildflowers and therefore encourages more wildlife to the area. Pollinators such as bumblebees will enjoy the many flowers that are allowed to flourish as well as the flowers found in the hedgerow itself, and more birds will enjoy the extra insects!

The bumblebee pictured above, a Tree Bumblebee, is one to watch for this year as they are spreading up the east coast at a fast rate. They only arrived in the UK from Europe in 2001 and made it as far as Aberdeen last year! Keep your eyes peeled for its unique ‘orange-black-white’ markings.

The structure of the hedge itself helps to provide habitat for wildlife. Before our hedge was laid, you can see that there are lots of branches at the tops of the plants but very little at the bottom. Laying the hedge means that the branches of the plants are now lower down, and the fact that new growth will come from the exposed wood will mean the hedge will grow back up to a good height, whilst also having a thick structure.

This long stretch of good habitat also acts like a stretch of road as it gives shelter to animals that want to move across the countryside. It’s possible that a Red Squirrel has at some point run along this hedge in search of new territory before they had spread into Kinross. Other species move up and down hedgerows, such as bats that find rich pickings when it comes to their favourite food, moths, that do well on the numerous flowering plants found along hedgerows.

This particular hedgerow has played host to a number of farmland bird species this winter as well, mainly Chaffinches and Yellowhammers but I’ve also picked out Brambling, Reed Bunting, Linnet and Tree Sparrow.

So, hopefully that has explained why hedge laying is such a brilliant habitat management technique, and you now know what to look out for next time you pass a hedgerow! If visiting our laid hedge then I’ll admit, it does loom a little drastic at the moment but come Spring the hedge will be teeming with new growth, full of new life, and have a completely new look.

Come 2-3 years, it will be in it’s prime as it will have reached it’s previous height and will be capable of supporting many, many birds and even more invertebrates and flowers!

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All of this work will have paid off by the time Spring and Summer get here… We just need to wait a wee bit…

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