The Benefits of Healthy Hedgerows
You may value your hedgerows for crop protection and pollination, as a stock barrier, a livestock shelter, a wildlife haven, a source of income or as a landscape feature. Keeping hedges healthy maximises all these benefits and ensures they thrive. Of course, the way you manage your hedgerows will reflect what you use them for. All hedgerows
need to be managed on a cycle if they’re to be viable in the long-term, but there’s plenty of flexibility in this cycle for your hedgerows to suit your farm and your needs.
We know that the cost of hedgerow maintenance can be a burden, especially where a hedgerow isn’t fulfilling its economic potential. But it’s easy to underestimate the role they play in your farm; healthy hedgerows offer a better chance at generating a financial return. Luckily, sometimes the best action for the hedge, is also the most cost effective. A useful, profitable hedge stands the best chance of surviving in the long term.
What've hedgerows ever done for us?
Wind damage - hedgerows can provide a wind break and increase crop yields by reducing damage that cold strong winds do such as:
- crop lodging which makes them much more difficult to harvest and dramatically reduce yield.
- premature flower and fruit shedding,
- shoot damage,
- chilling injuries
Reduced pesticide use - hedgerows increase populations of predator and parasitic species which are the natural enemies of crop pests. Farmland birds and predatory invertebrates such as spiders, beetles and wasps all feed on, and therefore limit, pest species.
Pollinators - hedgerows help support diverse pollinators, essential for crop pollination and crop yields. They provide food for pollinators throughout the year when crops aren’t in flower, as well as places to nest.
Hedgerows reduce soil erosion by:
- reducing surface wind speeds
- acting as a barrier to water runoff
- their roots which help to stabilise the soil surface
Tree and shrub roots grow deeper than crops to access nutrients deeper in the soil profile. This process cycles nutrients into the topsoil.
Shelter creates warmer soils, extending the growing season.
Shelter - livestock without shelter have a higher mortality and require more food. Shelter increases lamb survival rates, reducing the effect of wind chill and hypothermia.
Shade - in the summer months, heat tress reduces milk yield in dairy herds and affects fertility, growth rates and
Diet diversity - supplementary feeding on native hedgerow plants can increase livestock gut microbial diversity, help immune function, and improve feed conversion efficiency.
Biosecurity - thick, stock-proof hedges can create barriers to the spread of disease such as bovine TB by reducing
animal-to-animal contact between farms.
Parasitic load - livestock may self-medicate by browsing on common species found in hedgerows. Some leaves
have anti-parasitic properties, rough surfaces that act as a rasping plug or can cause a purging response
Water & flood control
Water infiltration - plant roots help soils absorb water faster. This enables the soil to act like a sponge soaking up flood water, rather than allowing it to run off the surface. Tree and hedgerow roots run deep, allowing a larger, deeper area of the soil profile to act like a sponge, thus absorbing more water. The soil under a hedge stores more water, and stores it faster preventing and delaying its movement downslope.
Water uptake - trees and shrubs remove water from soils by absorbing and transpiring it.
Reducing silt in waterways - silted waterways are more prone to flooding. Much of the silt in our waterways is field
run off. Hedges and hedgerow trees help prevent soil erosion and stop sediment reaching our streams and rivers.
Slowing flood water - by slowing water flows, trees reduce the impact of flooding, allowing more time for soil infiltration, and time to respond to flood warnings.
Carbon storage - hedgerows store carbon above and below ground, so can help us in our fight against climate change
Pollution - hedgerows reduce the amount of fertilisers, pesticides and sediment that reach watercourses. They act as a physical barrier, increasing infiltration to the soil, and recycle nutrients through the trees, shrubs and other plants. They also improve air quality by capturing pollution particles.
Sustainable wood fuel - hedges and hedgerow trees can provide sustainable wood fuel, without losing land from production. This can be used or sold as fuel or timber. Pollarding, a traditional tree management technique, can provide both wood fuel and animal fodder.
Privacy - hedgerows can act as a screen and protect privacy, shielding farm assets and buildings from public sight.
Sense of place - hedgerows are a defining feature of our countryside, with deep and significant cultural and historical importance. They tell the story of our farming traditions over many centuries and add to regional distinctiveness. They make farms more attractive which may help with farm diversification projects.
hedgerows provide a home, food, shelter and corridors to travel for wildlife. 70% of the UK is agricultural land so the importance of your hedgerows for wildlife cannot be overstated. Discover more about the wildlife value of hedgerows here.