The traditional hedgerow is an institution of the British countryside and as well as its practical application, is one of the most important parts of our horticultural heritage and is becoming an important consideration in environmentally aware garden design.
Host to an eclectic variety of British wildlife, such as the Brown Hare, the Song Thrush, the Doormouse and the Stag Beetle and wild flowers such as the Bluebell and Ragged Robin, our hedgerows are also a cost effective and eco-friendly land and garden divider.
However, this ubiquitous staple of the British countryside, is actually a species under threat and between 1940 and 1990, the common hedgerow underwent a dramatic decline; predominantly due to human influence. More worryingly, the cornucopia of British wildlife that used to thrive in these hedgerows is suffering from the decrease in natural habitat. A combination of increased urbanisation, a rise in the intensity of farming and therefore field size, overgrazing by livestock and improper maintenance have all had a detrimental effect on our hedgerows.
Another key human factor is the collective ignorance of the 1997 Hedgerow Regulations that demand the application for a removal notice for any hedgerow exceeding thirty years of age. There are hedgerows in the UK that date back from before the Enclosure Acts period – 1720 – 1840 and it is a dreadful thought that this precious rural heritage is potentially being destroyed.
The other major contributor to the hedgerow’s decline is the dreaded Elm Bark Beetle. This is a carrier species of Dutch Elm disease (named after its initial discovery in the Netherlands and origins in East Asia) which is a fungal disease that destabilises or ‘flags’ the branch structure of the Elm species. Not being a native disease, our UK hedgerows had no resistance to this disease during the initial epidemics of the 1970’s and 80’s and huge numbers of Elm trees and Elm related hedgerows were lost to the disease.
In response to this rapid decline, two organisations in South London, Great Britain, the BCS (Bromley Countryside Service) and BBAP (Bromley Biodiversity Action Plant), are putting a plan in place to recruit and educate the general public in hedgerow conservation. In the meantime, however, the BBAP and UK’s DEFRA (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) suggest the following:
Continue hedge laying and coppicing of hedgerows where appropriate and traditionally undertaken
Take account of the well-being of hedgerows when planning home expansion, garden design or improvement
Replenish any gaps within hedges to improve their appearance and potential wildlife sustainability