Leaving hedges to their own devices is magic for wildlife

Speckled wood butterfly photo Kevin Line

Hedgerows seem to hold a hidden aura of magic from the tallest to the shortest.

It's when you really start to delve within that you realise just what a diversity of wildlife you are likely to find. I would describe it as an  esoteric subject. Garden hedgerows are richer for all forms of wildlife if left just a bit to their own devices! 

If studied at close hand, the organic matter content in relation to the topography within a hedgreow can house a diverse range of insects, not to mention the amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts, reptiles such as slow worms, and of course the fast-declining  beautiful hedgehog. Hedges can also be inhabited by 80% of woodland birds, and 30% of butterflies. 

Speckled wood butterfly photo Kevin Line

Speckled wood butterfly photo Kevin Line

I started my own personal study on the speckled wood butterfly as part of my research written in the Cumbria Branch Butterfly Conservation newsletter. I was fascinated through close observation of the possibility of an individual speckled wood butterfly possibly  relocating to certain exact areas of hedgerows over a number of weeks. In our garden hedgerow, comprising copper and green beech, we have a resident wren or two at the base of the hedge, there they remain as our friend and partners! 

It's easy to reach for a hedge trimmer too soon, but just simply as a very important gardeners' rule for the consideration of wildlife, I never start to trim hedges until at least mid July onwards. The reason for this is to prevent any disturbance to nesting birds. I've witnessed some pretty dreadful accidents through sheer neglect and thoughtfullness, which isn't very nice. Birds such as yellow hammers, linnets, and thrushes could still be nesting.

YellowHammer photo Shirley Freeman

Yellow hammer. Photo Shirley Freeman.

We extended our beech hedge a few seasons ago, planting some young trees with thoughts on attracting wildlife. It's starting to work, spot the snail! 

Snail in hedge photo Kevin Line

Snail in hedge. Photo Kevin Line.

Our garden hedgerow comprises the beautiful perennial flower aquilegia, also known as columbine, or Granny's bonnet. These prolific and beautiful flowers provide a source of nectar for bumblebees during spring and summer, in addition to a vegetative food source for species of moth and butterfly catterpillar. I always leave the the base of our hedgerow untouched to run wild to allow invertebrates and amphibians to thrive, as well as any wild flower species.

Aquilegia photo Kevin Line

Aquilegia. Photo Kevin Line.

When strimming areas of longer grass, be mindful of all wildlife, in particular frogs and toads, again as with the hedge trimming the consequences can be dreadful. My strict rule of thumb is when talking to gardening groups - gardening is worth NOTHING if we dismiss any consideration for wildlife! If at all possible, leave areas of long grass either untouched to create havens for invertebrates and amphibians, or at a longer length.  

Common toad photo John Bridges

Common toad. Photo John Bridges.

I read with interest, (British Wildlife Journal - April issue, Habitat Management News) in brief - about areas of grasses left untouched at various lengths to enable the Roesel's bush-cricket to thrive (an incredible knowledge and skill). This cricket benefitted from an increase in sward height in 2019.

I also pay reference to the June issue of the industry magazine, Horticulture Week, it has been National Hedgerow Week (29th May - 6th June). This is connected with part of the Government's Green Recovery Challenge. The aim is to engage people through social media on managing hedges in different ways. Whatever the species of hedge, the larger the hedges, the increase of the occurance of biodiversity within.

Kevin Line

Kevin Line

Kevin is a lifetime Plantsperson, Horticulturist, Gardener & Conservationist, whose work spans over 40 years. He has worked for the National Trust, BBC Gardeners World and as a Head Gardener (North Cotswolds). Kevin is currently the Plantsperson at Lakeland Leisure Park, Flookburgh, and is also working in the area of conservation and ecology. Prior to that he developed a wildlife garden in Bowness On Windermere for three and a half years. The garden opened in 2019 under the National Gardens Scheme and proceeds were raised for Cumbria Wildlife Trust.

Kevin has a strong passion for wildlife gardening and is a member of Cumbria Wildlife Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Botanical Society Of Britain & Ireland and the RSPB. His passion and deep-rooted interests extend to wildlife & habitat conservation.

Kevin plans in the near future to start his own Wildlife Gardening Consultancy business.