Today’s columnist, Claire Hanley-Opik: A bustle in your hedgerow

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Hedgerows make me happy. Not just as part of a patchwork landscape, but in the way they are used to define borders, in our gardens and parks.

In our cities hedges do a great job of softening hard landscape, muffling urban noise, reducing pollution and providing a home to all those birds I hear singing on my way to the office at the Trust’s HQ.

At this time of year, hawthorn blossom – known as May – is blooming, and brambles are putting out new shoots; a promise of hedgerow harvests in the autumn.

New growth is beginning to cover bare branches, and birds are taking advantage of the cover and starting to nest.

Hedgerows provide an invaluable service to our biodiversity, and are an essential habitat for many plants and animals; this includes 130 Biodiversity Action Plan species.

They provide a living highway for many creatures, butterflies, birds, bats and hedgehogs to name a few; over half of our mammal species use hedgerows.

They also provide what are known as ecosystem services – services that nature provides which would have a real impact on our economy if we had to pay for them.

These include pest control, preventing soil erosion, regulating flood water, carbon storage and reducing air pollution, including dangerous particulate matter.

A hedge can be hundreds of years old and contain many different tree species. Sadly many were ripped up after the Second World War to make way for agriculture and building.

More than half of the remainder are in poor condition, due to pesticide use and neglect.

Many are brutally cut at the top and sides, but left unmanaged at the base leading to large gaps as the trees grow.

However, our land management team and volunteers dealt with 85 metres of hedge at Carbrook Ravine Reserve over winter, using the ancient craft of hedgelaying to create a living barrier with no gap at the bottom that is good for years to come.

Look after the wildlife in your own hedges by avoiding pesticides and not trimming in nesting season. Planting native hedge species in your garden will encourage wildlife.

The addition of some blackthorn or dog rose can provide painful deterrent to intruders.

Looking after a hedge like that can be its own reward, as you toast the fruits of your labour with a sloe G&T while you watch the butterflies and bees dancing around your greenery.

* Claire Hanley-Öpik, Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust