Free 'hedge-u-cation' for young people

Jon Hawkins

Teaching traditional hedge laying skills a lifeline for bees, bugs and butterflies

An ambitious new project by Surrey Wildlife Trust to inspire young people to connect with nature in the North Downs and Surrey Hills has received a £390,000 boost from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

By reconnecting people with the local landscape, the Trust hopes to prevent traditional hedge laying skills and wildlife from going extinct in the county by creating vital habitat for hedgehogs, bees, bugs and butterflies. 

The project aims to inspire young budding ecologists, practical conservationists and the wider local community by working with schools, colleges and youth groups. Events such as a hedgerow festival, hedgerow tales storytelling workshops and hedge laying competitions will help the Trust reach its goal of engaging and inspiring thousands of younger people in the project over four years. 

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The innovative ‘Preserving Surrey’s Hedgerow Heritage’ project with a total budget of nearly £880,000 has in part been made possible by National Lottery players, corporate supporters Chessington World of Adventures Resort (the Chessington Foundation Fund), Cargill and private individual appeal donors. The project is to begin in 2020.

Working in partnership with other landowners and organisations across the North Downs, the project provides a lifeline from our agricultural history for wildlife and future generations. It will also leave a legacy of creating, restoring and protecting more than seventy kilometres of hedgerows in the North Downs and Surrey Hills to create a more resilient and wildlife rich natural environment for the future.

For hundreds of years, generations of hedge layers have maintained the iconic patchwork quilt landscape of hedgerows to mark ownership boundaries, contain livestock and shelter crops from extreme weather. In the past these healthy and well connected networks of hedgerows have been essential habitat providing a source of food, shelter and safe passage for priority species of plants and animals across the landscape.

Today a third of all wildlife in the county is already extinct or heading towards extinction. Since 1945 the intensification of farming and the trend towards larger fields has meant that half of hedgerows have disappeared from the landscape. In addition 93 per cent of the county’s remaining hedgerows are now in poor condition.

More than 130 key species that depend on hedgerows are now at risk of extinction. These species include dormice, hedgehogs, bats, butterflies such as the brown hair streak and rare pearl bordered fritillary, bees, bugs and birds such as the white throat and yellow hammer.

Sarah Jane Chimbwandira, chief executive at Surrey Wildlife Trust, said:

‘Hedge laying skills need to become main stream if we are to help nature’s recovery and future-proof our environment. To protect our valuable wildlife and create jobs for our future, younger people need to upskill in nature conservation skills. Through our project we hope to give people the opportunity to develop skills and careers in the environment and also improve the health and well-being of young people by reconnecting them with nature.’

Hedgerows are part of our cultural heritage and provide a historical record, as well as being great for wildlife.  Increasingly they are valued for the major role they play in mitigating climate change by preventing soil loss from fields, reducing wind erosion and flooding by acting as a barrier.  They also help to reduce pollution from fertilisers and pesticides, regulating water supply and reducing run off providing vital ecosystem services.

The project aims to engage and inspire 2,400 local people, with a focus of more than half being young people from school and youth groups, as well as community volunteers, landowners, farm managers, corporate volunteer teams, public and private sector contractors in the restoration of hedgerows. This project is to help Surrey Wildlife Trust reverse the fragmentation of the countryside and encourage stewardship of the landscape in the future with resilient nature recovery networks.

Stuart McLeod, Director London & South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said:

“Urgent action needs to be taken to secure the future of Surrey’s hedgerows and the wealth of wildlife they support and cultural heritage they represent. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players new generations will be equipped with the traditional skills and passion needed to help the county’s hedgerows thrive once more.”

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