I love my hedge it wraps around the garden and creates a sanctuary within. A living fence that provides much needed wildlife habitat while slowing the wind, improving air and water quality and beautifying the landscape. Planted with a diverse range of evergreens, deciduous trees and shrubs, grouped together in irregular patterns, it teems with wildlife and birds use it as a safe nesting place as well as an abundant larder all year around. It saddens me to see so many houses that no longer have hedges, the space often given over to parking. Hedges are often better than trees at soaking up air pollution, with their lower growth heights they can trap toxins from an exhaust pipe level why would you not want that?
Researchers have found that hedges are a brilliant natural filter for toxic air pollution , thanks to their short size and tight-knit foliage. A paper published in the journal Atmospheric Environment has found that while tall trees are good at absorbing pollution in the open countryside, hedges are better at trapping harmful pollutants at exhaust pipe level.
A diverse habitat
Hedges may support up to 80 per cent of our woodland birds, 50 per cent of our mammals and 30 per cent of our butterflies. The ditches and banks associated with hedgerows provide habitat for frogs, toads, newts and reptiles.
In areas with few woods, many species of birds depend on hedgerows for their survival. At least 30 species nest in hedgerows. Many of these, such as bullfinches and turtle doves, prefer hedgerows more than 4m tall, with lots of trees, whereas whitethroats, linnets and yellowhammers favour shorter hedgerows (2–3m) with fewer trees. Dunnocks, lesser whitethroats and willow warblers prefer medium or tall hedgerows with few trees.
Wrens, robins, dunnocks and whitethroats usually nest low down, but song thrushes, blackbirds, chaffinches and greenfinches nest well above the ground level. Grey partridges use grass cover at the hedge bottom to nest. It is therefore very important to manage for a range of hedge heights and tree densities and to maintain a grassy verge at the base of the hedge.
Grassy hedge bottoms and field margins provide nesting material and insect larvae for chicks to feed on. Wild flowers and grasses growing up into a hedge also help to conceal nests from predators. In winter, hedgerows can be feeding and roosting sites for resident birds and winter visitors such as fieldfares and redwings.
When we think of hedges, our minds automatically pictures shrubs neatly trimmed and closely spaced, but it can be so much more diverse. A non-traditional hedge can be created with many different types of plants. Diversity is the key to the longevity and success of any hedge. If you drive through the country, you see screens and windbreaks that were planted with only three to four species in rows, and have, over time, been devastated by decay and disease. Who knew that pine wilt or tip blight would kill so many pine trees 50 years ago? A diverse selection of plants would allow the removal of a dead or dying plant without compromising the whole planting. So if you have even a little bit of space plant a hedge even a small one is an investment in your health and the future of our wildlife.