Why are our hedgerows and verges in such poor condition?

We have been contacted by one of our members who would like to open a conversation about the poor state of our hedgerows and roadside verges. Our member is a Cumbrian farmer who is very committed to the idea of wildlife-friendly farming.

However, during an informal interview we conducted with her, she emphasised that the responsibility and blame should not all fall on the farmers; stressing that we also need to think about the role that local authorities, other private landowners and contractors play.

Why are our hedgerows and verges in such poor condition?

Author: Our Conservation Apprentices in February 2018.

The vital ecological role hedgerows and verges play in an agricultural landscape is not breaking news, but it's good to be reminded that over one hundred species that are national priorities for conservation are associated with them.

One of the reasons these habitats are immensely important is because they provide corridors through a landscape and are particularly beneficial where they connect small areas of woodland.

Species such as dormice, red squirrels and harvest mice all live and travel through these vital natural highways. Similarly, roadside verges are of great importance for many wildflowers and plants, including ox-eye daisy, birds-foot-trefoil and rare orchids.

These are not only important for pollinating insects such as bees but also are the food plants for some of our rarest species of butterflies such as the duke of burgundy.

It’s not only wildlife that well managed healthy hedgerows in farmland benefit. They have the potential to provide shelter to livestock and increase the health and fertility of the soil, bettering livestock welfare and the quality of the land the farmer has to work. They also provide homes for the predators of many ‘pest’ species, providing free and natural pest control.

Over the past few years, Cumbria Wildlife Trust has done work to benefit both hedgerows and verges, be it through the Green Transport Corridors project or leading on Rusland Horizon’s ‘Hidden Hedgerows’ project, which aims to improve the state of hedgerows through gathering hedgerow data to inform future management. But our member, who is surely one of many, believes more needs to be done.

Currently, there are laws and restrictions on hedgerow management. Nesting birds, tree protection, licensing, and restrictions for Common Agricultural Policy schemes all affect when or whether a hedgerow can be trimmed, cut, coppiced or laid.

If a landowner or manager is looking to remove a hedgerow, the length, location and importance have to be assessed and an application made to their local planning authority.

These details can be viewed on the government website: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/countryside-hedgerows-regulation-and-management#check-if-a-hedgerow-is-protected

Unfortunately, in many cases, it would appear that these laws and restrictions that have been put in place to protect our wildlife and heritage are often not adhered to.

Our member would like to ask people if they have any ideas or thoughts on this topic.

Please leave a comment on this blog post, our Facebook or Twitter accounts, or let us know in another way.

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