Hedgelaying is typically carried out on agricultural sites to provide boundaries for fields or to keep livestock enclosed. But hedgelaying also has important ecological benefits; for example hedges can provide wildlife corridors, buffer noise, provide shelter and prevent soil loss. Hedges can also provide a valuable habitat for many species of birds, insects and small mammals.
The practice of hedgelaying involves creating a barrier out of readily available material i.e. living woodland plants. Broadleaf tree species are used to provide this woody layer, and common species used include: ash, beech, blackthorn, elm and hornbeam among others. The hedge is constructed by partially cutting through the stems of trees near to ground level and bending them over as ‘pleachers.’ The pleachers are laid close together and can be anchored by stakes and binding to form a living fence. Despite being partially cut, the pleachers actually regenerate and resprout from the base and so eventually thicken the hedge. However, the pleacher needs to be cut at a precise angle to ensure that the bark, sapwood and cambium are left intact so that the tree can still receive nutrients and continue to grow.
At Anton Crescent Wetlands, volunteers were learning how to build a hedge for conservation purposes rather than a solid and sturdy barrier to keep in livestock. Therefore, instead of using stakes and binders, the pleachers were simply woven together to form a dense shrub-level layer.
The type of hedge laid at Anton Crescent provides a varied habitat for plants and animals at the site. The low lying hedge at Anton Crescent provides excellent cover for small perching birds such as house sparrows (Passer domesticus), great tits (Parus major) and blue tits (Parus caeruleus), which are common throughout the year.
Hedgelaying can be particularly beneficial to some species of bird such as dunnocks (Prunella modularis) and Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella), which use hedgerows as their primary habitat source. These species have seen major declines over the last 25 years in their population, due to agricultural intensification and changes in habitat. Hedgelaying can provide these vulnerable species with key nesting sites, which is why it is an important conservation practice. By carrying out this traditional practice, volunteers are helping to maintain a key habitat for close-to-the-ground nesting birds at Anton Crescent Wetland by providing constant new thick growth.
SNCV Biodiversity Assistant