Each month, at work, we have ‘team day’ in which all of our staff members spend a day outside on one of our sites, doing a practical conservation task. November’s team day (or as we lovingly call it: “Manual Labour Day”) was hedge laying at Park Lime Pits. Because of the increase in value to wildlife that the process of laying conveys on a hedge, it is part of the site’s Environmental Stewardship agreement to lay certain hedges on site. It is just one of the ways that we work with the farmer, and with Natural England, to improve the site for wildlife.
Hedge-laying is an ancient craft, and although the different styles of hedge laying employ different techniques, all methods rely on the same basic principle: You can cut ALMOST all the way through a tree and as long as an intact section of bark remains, the tree will not die, but continue to grow. (This is because they xylem and phloem tubes through which trees feed are always located in the outer areas of the trunk, just under the bark, and as long as they remain intact, the tree will live.) Using bow saws and traditional tools called Billhooks, trees in a standing hedge are cut almost all the way through and then leaned over. The trees in the line of the hedge are laid sequentially and the line of the laid hedge is then secured by putting in stakes to hold it up. In as little as a single season’s growth the hedgerow looks lush and healthy again.
As well as the benefits to agriculture (provision of shelter for livestock, a natural way to enclose pastures) laid hedges benefit wildlife in many ways. Whereas standing hedgerows can, as they age, develop gaps, laid hedgerows are continuous, which is important for various organisms for different reasons. Firstly, continuous lines of habitat allow insects and mammals to travel from site to site, relatively safe from predation, thus the laying of hedges directly combats habitat fragmentation and the genetic isolation that can go along with it. These linear features are particularly important to bats, which use them to navigate around the landscape, and over which they forage. The fact that laid hedges are thicker, and have more growth, which means that they are excellent habitat for animals like the Hazel Dormouse. The increased amounts of dead wood within laid hedges provide habitat for beetles and other saproxylic invertebrates.
You’ll find laid hedgerows all over Walsall’s countryside sites, but the best place to see them is probably Park Lime Pits and Lime Pits Farm, where there are examples of mature and brand new hedges. Winter is a perfect time to spot them as there are no leaves in the way! So if you fancy a winter ramble, why not head down to Lime Pits and discover this unique habitat?