Hedgerows: the stitching in the fabric

Hedgerows: the stitching in the fabric

When we move through the landscape by car, bike, or on foot, it’s easy to overlook the hedgerows that line our journey. Their unbroken presence reduces them to almost a blur. However, for wildlife, these prickly strips of woodland provide the equivalent of a motorway network, connecting pockets of habitat that would otherwise be at risk of extinction. For butterfly species alone, hedgerows form vital windbreaks which allow them to traverse the landscape. Hedgerows are the vital stitching in the fabric of our countryside that support both natural and human systems.

Government initiatives to intensify food production after the second world war decimated over 50% of our hedgerows. This has been a blow not only for biodiversity but also for our landscape heritage, as hedgerows can be thousands of years old; underpinned by banks built in Bronze Age or even remnants of the original wildwood from which early Britains carved out their fields.

Alongside our volunteers and the National Park Authority, the Snowdonia Society has been working with four local farmers on the Dinas Mawddwy Sustainable Management Scheme to increase biodiversity, restore peatlands and promote the walking routes in the area to increase understanding and enjoyment of this hidden corner of the National Park. We’ve already planted 723m of hedge species as part of the scheme; work that will hopefully provide a host of mutual benefits for people and wildlife centuries to come.                                                 

Volunteers surrounded by the wild beauty of Dinas Mawddwy, where ice and water have carved wide open valleys and steep gorges, quarries lay dormant, and rocky ridges protrude like the bones of a dinosaurs back.

Earlier this year at Pennant Farm, Llanymawddwy, our volunteers planted 530 saplings to create 76m of diverse hedgerow using a combination of tall tree and bushy thorn species – with dense bases of dog rose, bramble and wildflowers – to connect the already established patchwork of broadleaf trees along the Afon Dyfi. It is hoped that hawthorn, blackthorn, and crab apple will attract a range of pollinators and invertebrates that will, in turn, provide food for birds and bats. Meanwhile, larger species such as oak and hazel will benefit agricultural production by acting as wind breaks to animals, increasing survival rates for lambs during the winter and providing shade for dairy cattle in the summer, in turn increasing milk yields.

100 trees were also planted to help stabilize a steep slope above the farm, helping to minimize soil erosion by water and wind as well as reducing localized flood risk to the farm. You and I will benefit too, as the palette of colour and texture from their branches, leaves and flowers will have a profound effect on the landscape, adding to the wild beauty of this place.

Hedgerows offer a unique opportunity to increase our biodiversity, resilience to climate change and support our farmers simultaneously. Their rhythmic transition from bud and blossom to berry add to the tune and tone of the landscape from which we can all benefit.

Owen Davies – Project Officer and Cai Bishop-Guest – Conservation Assistant – Snowdonia Society.

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