Top tips for managing hedgerows
Hedgerows are a dynamic habitat that require management. Managing hedgerows on a cycle ensures their health and long term survival. Here are some top tips for managing hedgerows.
1. Manage a hedge on a cycle – where are they on the hedge management cycle?
Hedgerows are as dynamic as the plants that make them, which means we’d be fighting a losing battle if we tried to keep them the same size and shape forever. Instead, work out where the hedge is on the management cycle and work according to that. The ultimate goal in hedge management it to create a thick, dense hedgerow. These are the hedges that are most beneficial to landowners as well as for nature.
When we cut hedges at the same point year after year, it will produce fewer flowers and fruits for wildlife, will lose its lower branches and the hedge will become leggy and in risk of invasion, gappiness and eventually even failure. Trimming to a slightly higher and wider point each year will help prevent this, and the hedge can be re-shaped when needed.
No matter your annual management, at one point or other the lower parts of the hedge vegetation will get a bit thin and the hedge will need more dramatic action like laying or even coppicing. This only needs to be done every 40+ years to keep the hedge healthy and valuable for our wildlife. See the hedgerow management cycle for more information.
2. Care for your Hedgerow trees
Hedgerow trees, especially native ones, are fantastic for wildlife and will increase both the individual numbers and diversity of species inhabiting your hedge. Old trees are especially valuable as their rot holes and dead wood are amazing roost sites for birds and bats, and can also provide the increasingly rare habitat needed for an incredible array of rare invertebrates.
Take care not to damage any of your hedgerow trees when trimming, and select some new young trees growing in your hedge to save from the flail, which will then become the big old hedgerow trees of the future.
3. Trim at the best time for nature
Leave trimming to late winter wherever possible, ideally January or February. This allows birds and small mammals to feed on wild berries and fruits, keeping them sustained through winter. Cutting earlier cuts off the majority of this food source, making the winter months harder for wildlife.
Hedges should never be cut in bird breeding season which extends from 1st March to 31st August, (unless safety reasons necessitate it) as this can disturb or destroy nests, egg clutches or chicks which are all protected by law.
4. When not to trim
The good news is it is best not to cut every year! Cutting once every two or three years increases the flower and berry production, which is often only produced on 2 year and older stems.
The benefit of this is that you can cut your hedges on rotation and so only have to cut ½ or 1/3 of your hedges in any one year. Al alternative is cutting just one side of each hedge every year, which will halve your cutting time and leave berries on each hedge.
5. Plant up gaps
Gaps in hedges not only reduce the total habitat area of a hedge, but also their value as a corridor for wildlife. Even small gaps in a hedgerow can be an obstacle to dormouse dispersal which can lead to isolated populations more at risk of local extinction.
Plant up any gaps with a range of native shrub or tree species, and make sure young whips are protected. Increasing the number of plant species included will help provide food in the form of flower forage or fruit throughout the year. It also helps increase the diversity of insect and animal species, some of which depend of particular plant species to survive.
Native shrubs and woody species habitat for more insect and animal species than those that are introduced from abroad, as more of our native wildlife have adapted to eat them.