Southern Water Biodiversity Grant funded - Hedging Our Future Project
June’s project work was focussed on continuing to gather information about hedges, specifically, on historic information on where hedgerows existed that have now disappeared and identifying ancient ones. A trip to the WSCC Records Office proved very useful and old estate maps, including one dated 1642, have been really useful. They mark old field boundaries which were hedges as well as areas of woodland.
Hedges and ditches as wildlife superhighways
Hedgerows can be a superhighway wildlife corridor depending on their quality and management. On the Manhood Peninsula they often have an additional asset – the humble and much overlooked ditch. The combination of hedge and water linear habitat gives wildlife lots of food opportunities as well as a chance to move across the landscape while feeling protected. The hedge shades the water in the ditch slowing down evaporation rates and holding back soil and nutrient from the water when there is run off from fields during high rainfall events. This helps with water quality which in turn encourages a greater range of riparian species.
The locally present water voles must be mentioned here as they live in the ditches and love a hedge. Especially during the winter, the hedges provide a greater range of food opportunities with roots and bark eaten when there is less foliage. Water voles will happily climb into trees to access evergreen leaves, such as holly, fruit like hawthorn or apples, and blackberries in bramble. Hedges provide a platter of food choices close to the safety of the ditch and so have huge value to this nationally endangered species.
Hedges that border water courses provide great protection to that riparian habitat. They can prevent litter being blown into these waterways which can cause blockages in culvert and contribute to flooding, introduce plastic and toxic chemicals into the environment, and which can end up in the sea causing marine pollution. Hedge tree roots open up the soil to allow greater water penetration and to slow down water runoff. Hedges can hold back soil to prevent entry into the ditch system which can contribute to siltation and reduce the capacity of the channel and again increase flood risk.
On the Manhood Peninsula, with longer and drier summers, shading the waterway is an important as it means there is water available and present for longer. Many of the ditches are at risk of drying up and so become unsuitable habitat for species needing water. That can be fish, invertebrates like dragonflies and damselflies, water voles, frogs, and waterfowl.
Hedges are a farmer’s friend providing shade for livestock and horses in the summer and protection from winds and rain in the winter. It has also been shown that some crops can benefit from shading in the summer as water availability in the soil is higher.