Life on the Hedge

Thousands of miles of wildlife-rich hedgerows criss-cross our country in a familiar and historical patchwork landscape.

First light and an early winter mist lies softly on the fields. Along the track the low sun is backlighting frosted cobwebs and the frozen stalks of last summer’s cow parsley. Just ahead my presence is flushing redwings and fieldfares out from the hedges. I have interrupted their gorging on a bounty of berries.  Sloe, haw, hip and holly are all on the menu with these thorny thickets providing a rich larder for birds that have come from harsher climes to spend their winter with us.  

Other birds will take advantage of these hedges at this time of year. At sunset hundreds of chattering starlings will take up roosting positions deep within the intricate tangle of shrubs and climbers. Here they will be protected from whatever the elements have in store over the long winter nights.  Insects in various life stages are also holed up. Some careful exploration and you may find dormant ladybirds tucked deep into crevices under bark or the tiny eggs of the brown hairstreak butterfly lodged in the fork of a blackthorn branch.  Meanwhile hidden away at ground level hedgehogs, toads, and newts are using the security of the dense vegetation for their seasonal slumber.   

Later in the year our hedge will become a riot of colour, movement and scents with bees and butterflies visiting the flowers of campion, bramble and honeysuckle. Long tailed tits and wrens will be busily raising their broods; shrews and voles will be feeding, sheltering and defending their territories.  But all that is yet to come and for now much of life lies waiting.

Thousands of miles of hedgerows such as this criss-cross our country in a familiar and historical patchwork landscape. Rich in wildlife this network of green highways links the habitats and populations of so many species, all living on the hedge.

Hedgerow species

Dormouse

Well managed hedgerows are vital corridors for many species and none more so than the dormouse.  As well as a hibernation site the hedge will provide them with many of the fruits, nuts and insects in their diet.

Dormouse

© Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

 

Hedgehog

Hedgehogs will often choose the base of a thick hedgerow to site their hibernaculum although in milder winters they may be seen out and about as late as December.

Millennials to get connected to nature recovery networks

© Jon Hawkins

Brimstone

One of a handful of UK butterflies which over winter as adults and one of the first to be seen flying in Spring, its caterpillars feed on alder buckthorn.

Brimstone butterfly

© Amy Lewis

Stoat

These fierce predators are active all year round. They use hedge lines to hunt small rodents and rabbits, although when food is scarce may resort to foraging for earthworms.

Stoat

© Andy Rouse/2020VISION

Ivy

this late flowering  evergreen has much to offer wildlife in winter with its berries sustaining many bird species long after other fruits have been snapped up and its leaves  providing a home for  hibernating insects.

Ivy

© Philip Precey

Orange ladybird

This distinctive ladybird is among the many insects that hibernate in leaf litter at the base of hedges. Other species of ladybird will be under bark or nestled within thick beds of lichen.

Orange ladybird

© Chris Lawrence

Buff tailed bumble bee

In winter the queen will hibernate underground often using the shelter of a shady hedge bank. For the rest of the year bees rely on vibrant hedges for nectar, pollen and nesting opportunities.

Buff tailed bumblebee

© Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

Cutting Hedge Creativity Competition

Calling all budding science communicators, short story writers, journalists, artists or social media influencers. 

Are you at the cutting hedge of creativity? Can you holler about hedgerows, create the allure of getting a hedge laid or help others get hedgeucated? This is the competition for you!

Cutting Hedge creativity is open to anyone to enter from age 12 and upwards, with fantastic cash prizes!

Find out more