Southern Water Biodiversity Grant funded - Hedging Our Future Project
In July we had our first Steering Group meeting, with a range of key people from different organisations and expertise, inputting to ensure the project meets its goals. We aim to make this 1-year project a pilot, focussing on Sidlesham parish, that we can then use to apply for further grant funding to roll out across the wider peninsula.
Hedges - the linear food buffet
A large benefit of hedgerows that criss-cross the countryside is that they provide habitat opportunities for a large range of species. The trees can provide many sources of food with nectar and pollen in spring, and fruit, berries and nuts in late summer and autumn, and in the winter, there is bark, roots, and leaves if evergreen. Having a hedge with many native species extends the food offer as they fruit and flower at different times.
Blackthorn is one of the earliest flowering trees and in March there can often be a welcome flush of white in the hedgerows to signal the start of spring. This is often followed by the hawthorn with the flowers ranging in colour from white through to quite a pinky red. Into May the Guelder Rose and Elder are showing off their palm sized flat flower clusters and the wayfaring tree, unusual as it is, is also starting to flower. Hidden away in the hedge, and seen by only the very observant, are the tiny little white spindle flowers which in the autumn will turn into bright orange seed in pink cases.
Pollinating insects enjoy the flowers, especially in the spring when other food sources can be scarce and often butterflies such as red admirals that have overwintered can be seen feasting on these sugary treats.
One special species that relies on the nectar and pollen of native trees in spring is the hazel dormouse (uscardinus avellanarius). These secretive mammals live in the canopies of trees and have quite primitive digestive systems. They are unable to process cellulose so do not eat leaves but forage on flowers, fruits, insects, seeds, and nuts. Therefore, they need good quality hedges and woodland areas that can offer this range of options. A hedge with wild cherry, hawthorn, honeysuckle, hazel, and blackthorn ticks all the boxes and with the invertebrates that are also attracted to these tree being on the dormouse menu, this would be perfect habitat. There have been no organised surveys for dormice on the peninsula and there are only 2 historic records, but they may be among us in some of the better-quality hedges, and this would be a good project for the future.
Dormouse have been found in bramble on Portland, along motorway verges on young scrub trees, and in the willow carr at Abbotsbury, so they don’t always read the handbook saying they should live in ancient woodland!