New hedgerow planted at Scottish PARTRIDGE demonstration site
They can also provide important protected routes for wildlife to travel along, helping them to move securely through an otherwise harsh landscape. Miles of hedges were lost in the UK as farms expanded in the 1970s and 1980s as they strove to meet ever increasing demands for food, but now farmers can receive payments to encourage the reintroduction of these valuable habitats.
Balgonie Estates in Fife is a key demonstration site for the NSR Interreg PARTRIDGE project. This is exploiting a network of demonstration sites across the partner countries in Scotland, England, The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany to show how wildlife can benefit from an increase in the area of quality non-crop habitats and the implementation of other measures. These are all drawn from techniques known to benefit grey partridges – a key indicator species for farmland wildlife. All the sites in the project are increasing the amount of such habitats to a total of 7% of the farmed area: this is the level which research suggests is required to support stable populations of wildlife in the long term.
Balgonie has already introduced some cover crops with more planned for this spring, and now the management team have just completed the planting of a new hedge. This extends a short length of hedge planted in 2016 by some local school children. The new hedge will provide ideal nesting and winter cover, as well as food resources, for the expanding grey partridge population in a part of the farm that was previously very open to the elements with no protection from predators.
Local school children helped plant the hedge
The hedge consists of dog rose, holly, wild privet, hawthorn, blackthorn and guelder rose, planted in clumps, in two rows approx. 1-metre apart and at a density of around four plants per metre. The mix of species will provide different resources at different times of year and the low density will ensure the individual plants can mature well whilst not excluding natural colonisation by other plants, and ensuring the whole structure is easily accessible to the wildlife it is meant to serve.
Over the coming years the hedge will need careful management to ensure it maintains its usefulness: it is important that hedges are not cut too frequently or severely, with a light cut every 2-3 years usually sufficient, ideally in the late winter. Likewise, it is important that the vegetation at the base of the hedge – the weeds and grasses that colonise such areas – is allowed to flourish as this greatly enhances the value of the hedge as wildlife habitat. This can be helped by cutting the hedge in a A-shape in cross-section, to minimise shading of the hedge-base. As far as is practical, these areas should not be driven on, especially in the spring and summer when they may be hosting nests.
If you wish to learn more about how hedgerow management and how this affects wildlife, please see here
By Dave Parish