Don’t Hedge Your Bets, Bet on the Hedges

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

The UK has more miles of hedges than miles of road, and they are a vital home and highway for wildlife. Birds, insects, toads, snakes, and (appropriately named) hedgehogs all live in the country’s hedgerows. In addition to being “reservoirs of life,” they also sequester carbon, prevent soil erosion, and reduce flooding. The humble hedge is having a moment: in the UK, national environmental groups and the government’s net-zero planning both are calling for an increase in the hedge network. There’s also a push to allow hedges that already exist to grow larger and taller — more wild — to support more wildlife.

Why this Matters: Nearly 75% of the UK is farmed land. Planting hedges is one of the best ways to combat the ecosystem fragmentation that comes with so much of the country being used for agriculture. Many farmland species are on the decline because of habitat destruction, but simple changes like growing more robust hedges can have a large impact. After Brexit, the UK is now able to create its own agricultural policies independent from the EU. Short of full protection like the #30×30 pledge, it’s an opportunity to make space for nature on its farms, and a way to increase biodiversity.

One hedge, thousands of species

In Devon, one of England’s counties, ecologist Rob Wolton has been documenting all of the plants, animals, and fungi in a single hedge near his house. After a decade of observing, he estimates that 3,000 species rely on the hedge in one way or another. That level of abundance isn’t rare — a single hedgerow can support 750 species of flies alone“There is increasing recognition that within intensively farmed landscapes, much of the wildlife finds refuge in the hedges. But they’re much more than just wildlife corridors – they are really important as habitats in their own right,” Wolton told the Guardian

Hedge history

Older hedges tend to have a wider diversity of species that call them home. In one English county, there may be hedges 800 years old. Their original purpose of marking boundaries and keeping livestock within an area was taken over by fencing in the 20th century, when about a third of the country’s hedges were destroyed. Their importance to wildlife eventually lent them government protection in the ‘90s. Of the hedges remaining, only around 30% are in good condition today, and allowing them to grow more robustly is as important as new planting.

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