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What have hedgerows ever done for us?

Hedgerows are an essential component of agricultural landscapes. They provide homes to many species and act as corridors linking remnant habitat patches. This allows wildlife to move freely in the wider landscape. However, they also deliver a number of additional benefits to farmland. Here is a list of some of the amazing things hedgerows do for us.

How hedgerows work for us

Hedgerows provide shelter

Without shelter, livestock on farms have higher mortality rates and require more food. Shelter can increase lamb survival rates by reducing the effect of wind chill and thus hypothermia. In the summer months, shelter can reduce heat stress in dairy herds which contributes to a reduced milk yield. Shelter also creates warmer soils, which can extend the crop growing season.

Regulate water supply for crops

Hedgerows reduce water loss through evaporation by decreasing the wind speed over the ground surface. They also help to store water for later use. A 50m hedgerow at the bottom of a 1ha field can store between 150 and 375 cubic metres of water during rainy periods for slow release down slopes during dry periods. Flooding is reduced by hedgerows too, as they increase the rate of water infiltration and slow water flows. Their deep roots help to remove water faster from the soil than crops during periods of excessive rainfall.

Can improve animal health

As hedgerows reduce the damp conditions in fields, they may help to reduce the incidence rate of lameness.

Reduce soil erosion

Hedgerows reduce soil erosion by reducing surface wind speeds. They also act as a barrier to water-borne run-off.

Can reduce the need for pesticide use

Hedgerows increase populations of predator species. Natural enemies of pests can improve the potential for biological control, so reducing the need for farmer input or pesticide use. Biological control is a service provided by species of farmland birds and predatory invertebrates, such as spiders and predatory beetles. These groups feed on, and therefore limit, the populations of pest species. Rich flora in a hedge base will attract a host of predatory and parasitic species able to tackle crop pests.

Help sustain pollinator communities which support productive farming

Pollinator services are valued at £430 – £603 million annually. Managed honey bees can play a valuable role in pollination. However, populations, are currently vulnerable to disease and pesticide usage, making populations of wild pollinators increasingly important. Bees and other pollinators depend on forage throughout the year including when crops are not in flower.

A sustainable source of wood fuel

Hedges and hedgerow trees can provide sustainable wood fuel if managed correctly. Pollarding is a traditional management of trees that can provide both wood fuel and animal fodder.

Reduce the risk of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle herds in wildlife-friendly farms

Hedgerows appear to be a key factor for improved biosecurity. ‘Hedge-poor’ farms, those with few hedgerows and large field sizes, have been found to have a greater risk of bTB outbreaks than ‘hedge-rich’ farms. Hedgerow availability, width and continuity, have also been shown to be more important than badger abundance in affecting bTB incidence.

Reduce the rate of climate change through carbon storage

A new hedgerow may store 600-800kg of carbon per year per 1000m, for up to 20 years.

Pollution reduction

Hedgerows reduce the amount of ferilisers, pesticides and sediment that reach watercourses. They do this by acting as a pysical barrier, increasing infiltration into the ground, and through nutrients being recycled by the trees, shrubs and other plants.

What-have-hedgerows-ever-done-for-us-diagram-PTES

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