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A tale of three hedges: why we should care more for these important green corridors

PUBLISHED: 10:26 10 August 2019 | UPDATED: 13:04 12 August 2019

Nick Miller

Nick Miller

Archant

Conservationists in three different parts of Suffolk report on the state of three different hedges.

Heavily flailed hedge on Joes RoadHeavily flailed hedge on Joes Road

Hedgerows have come and gone over the centuries as land management and farming techniques have changed. Since the war, the drive towards food self-sufficiency and agricultural intensification has seen many thousands of miles of hedgerow grubbed out across the UK in order to increase the size of fields.

Figures and statistics differ but it is often stated that post-war we have lost half of our hedges.

Conservationists point out that hedgerows offer vital habitat for a host of nesting birds, invertebrates and mammals who also use them are as corridors, while plants, fungi and lichens abound. Studies show hundreds of species make their home in ancient hedgerows.

MORE: Life on the edge: the wonders of Suffolk's Roadside Nature Reserves

Species rich

No wonder then that people such as retired countryside manager Charles Cuthbert hold dear every hedgerow we have left.

Mr Cutherbert contacted the EADT in March about the "destruction" of up to 300 metres of hedgerow of ash, hawthorn, blackthorn, field maple, hazel and bramble in Rosemary Lane at Kelsale near Saxmundham.

Rosemary Lane, Kelsale in February. Mr Cuthbert says there was a tall hedge on the right hand side until Spring 2016 but that it has been flailed to the ground twice in recent years. Picture: Charles CuthbertRosemary Lane, Kelsale in February. Mr Cuthbert says there was a tall hedge on the right hand side until Spring 2016 but that it has been flailed to the ground twice in recent years. Picture: Charles Cuthbert

According to Mr Cuthbert,
 the hedge in question was until spring 2016 "a tall species-rich mixture of native trees and shrubs and was both an important landscape feature and wildlife habitat" where he had regularly heard the song of the almost Suffolk-extinct turtle dove every summer.

He says it was flailed in 2016 and again in February of this year, which "completely destroyed all of the woody regrowth".

"This work can not in any way be described as hedge laying or coppicing, which I accept are traditional methods of hedge management," he added.

Mr Cuthbert contacted East Suffolk Council, whose officers visited the scene and determined that no law had been broken, as the hedgerow had been cut down, but not destroyed.

"At a recent follow up investigation, there is a regrowth in the coppiced hedge, confirming once again that is has not been destroyed and therefore is not an offence under the 1997 Hedgerow Regulations," a spokesman said.

Mr Cuthbert says he was not seeking a prosecution but merely a "quiet word" with the landowner about how best to manage the hedge for wildlife.

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Nesting

Hedge near Joes Road in Little Cornard that was heavily flailed in summer despite being below a barn owl nest box Picture: Ross BentleyHedge near Joes Road in Little Cornard that was heavily flailed in summer despite being below a barn owl nest box Picture: Ross Bentley

Over in Little Cornard, west Suffolk, nature lovers have been exasperated by the recent heavy duty flailing of a kilometre of roadside hedges around Joes Road.

Conservationist Nick Miller says while on one stretch of the road the hedge may have been jutting out and causing problems for motorists, most of the thoroughfare is wide and required no such intervention.

"In June and July, there was extensive hedge-cutting on Joes Road, including right up to a barn owl box, and much of it was needless," said Mr Miller.

"Birds are nesting throughout these months - for instance bullfinch and yellowhammer, which are both data protected birds, have their main nesting from mid-June to mid-July.

"Cutting of hedges should be done in winter. It's quite wrong that a kilometre or more of hedges in Joes Road and adjacent are cut every summer."

Mr Miller says his group has written to the Suffolk Police Rural Crime Unit, explaining Joes Road area is the worst for summer cutting in their area and has requested that the people at nearby farms are warned not to repeat this.

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Planting a new hedge in Blaxhall   Picture: Rodney WestPlanting a new hedge in Blaxhall Picture: Rodney West

Green corridor

Better hedge news comes from Blaxhall Environment Group, which earlier this year fulfilled a long-standing ambition to plant a green-corridor of several hundred metres on farmland from a copse next to their local church to a plot of ancient woodland known as Knowles.

According to Rodney West, permission plus 40% of the costs for the plants and canes was provided by Langmead Farms, who have recently taken over the running of the farm . The Woodland Trust paid the other 60%, while planting was carried out by Blaxhall Environment Group and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust Blaxhall Heath Work Party.

"The farmer's policy is that he likes to leave things to grow for wildlife," said Mr West.

"He is also planting woodland copses on small corners of 
fields.

"We expect this new hedge to be half decent in five years, and quite a respectable hedge in ten."

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