The importance of hedges

Among the services we offer at Dodd & Co is hedge planting, cutting and maintenance. This is all part of managing your land and is vitally important for maintaining borders and boundaries as well as the health of your natural environment.

Why are hedges important?

Hedges are important for a number of reasons, they provide a range of services for humans and wildlife that supports the healthy functioning of ecosystems. 

As the most widespread semi-natural habitat in the UK, hedgerows support a large and diverse flora and fauna population. They supply food for invertebrates, birds and mammals and, in areas of intensively farmed areas, they offer a refuge for wild plants and animals.

 A neat hedge can complement stock fencing as well as offer shelter and bio-security 

A neat hedge can complement stock fencing as well as offer shelter and bio-security 

For humans, hedgerows can act as regulatory serves, controlling processes such as air quality, water purification and pollination. In terms of the air we breathe, hedgerows help produce oxygen and capture harmful pollutants. This is particularly true in more urban areas.

Creating barriers

On agricultural land, hedges act as a barrier to keep livestock in, sheltered and safe, and human beings out of areas they should not go – such as a field with a bull in it, or where crops are growing. They can also reduce the amount of pesticides, fertilisers and eroded soil from reaching waterways. Particularly pertinent at the moment is the use of hedgerows to prevent or alleviate the effects of flooding as a hedge can increase filtration rates and slow water flow.

Keeping stock safe

One very important effect of good, secure hedging is the prevention of bovine tuberculosis (bTB). Hedges form part of the bio-security system around a livestock area. In a study into the risks of bTB to herds of cattle, it was found that ‘hedge-poor’ farms, that is those farms with few hedgerows and large field sizes were at a significantly greater risk than those with ‘hedge-rich’ fields. One of the reasons suggested for these findings is that badgers will stick to the natural hedge habitat if it is there in abundance. Without the hedgerow to act as a buffer, cattle and badgers are more likely to come into contact as badgers will wander into fields where cattle graze.

Looking good

Hedges are also aesthetically pleasing. They can cover unsightly developments, protect people’s privacy or provide pleasant areas for people to enjoy.

All of which makes the growth and maintenance of hedgerows an important feature of land management. In the past farmers have tended to cut their hedges after harvest in the autumn time. Advice from the Department for Agriculture and Rural Affairs suggests that later in the winter, around February and March time, is a far better option. This allows the birds to forage all the berries earlier in the year. Any later than this and you risk disturbing nesting birds.

How to...

A flail is the most common tool used for hedge-cutting. Hedgerows might look as if they have been put through a mill when they are first cut, but they recover well and regular cutting will promote new, healthy growth. Hedgerows should be cut in a yearly sequence – side one year, top the next, other side the third year – to allow the hedge to keep flowering and growing. It is also important not to cut the hedge too close as this will weaken the growth of the hedge.

Part of the maintenance of hedgerows includes filling gaps between the plants. This might be necessary because existing plants have died, become spindly tr a natural gap in growth has occurred. Use of natural hedgerow plants such as blackthorn, hawthorn and ash are recommended.

 Tree guards offer extra protection against curious (and destructive) livestock

Tree guards offer extra protection against curious (and destructive) livestock

New hedgerows and trees planted in hedgerows need protection. Plastic mesh guards, chicken wire or rabbit wire will protect these young plants, while larger tree guards can prevent deer from damaging the new shoots on trees