Why Hedgerows Are Crucial To Reaching Sustainable Farming Goals

What is a hedgerow? 

Hedgerows, as defined by the Government, as vibrant lines of trees or shrubs spanning over 20 meters in length and under 5 meters in width, with gaps smaller than 20 meters between them.

In simple terms, hedgerows are more than just a row of vegetation, hedgerows uniquely form long, continuous barriers that distinguish them from just bushes or trees. They serve as vital links and highways for wildlife, creating bustling passages through which animals can safely travel and flourish. These rows of vegetation breathe life into the landscape, connecting habitats and nurturing biodiversity.

Newly laid hedge on Burrough Farm

Why are hedgerows important to farmland? 

Hedgerows are nature’s unsung heroes, serving as crucial barriers that not only to help prevent soil erosion but also to preserve fertile soil. They also play an essential role in maintaining soil health and mitigating the impacts of both droughts and floods. The roots of hedgerows anchor the soil firmly, guarding against the ravages of dry conditions and high winds by keeping the soil intact. Additionally, they help minimise water runoff, which is vital because during intense rainfall, valuable fertile soil can be lost to rivers and seas, a significant concern for farmers.

Given the excessive rainfall experienced in 2024, the importance of hedgerows has never been more noticeable. They are indispensable in helping farmers maintain their soil right where it needs to be—under their feet and ready to nurture the next crop.

Did you know … “one inch of soil takes over 500 years to form

Soil Association

Along with their importance to farmers, hedgerows require management with coppicing being one form of maintenance which we carried out on the Burrough farm in Autumn, 2023. 

As identified by Suffolk Wildlife Trust “Coppicing involves rejuvenating hedges by cutting down to near ground level. This encourages vigorous regrowth. Coppicing is best done in sections to reduce the impact on wildlife. This happens during the winter, where the main stem is cut back to just above ground level and cut at an angle to allow the water to run off. In the spring, several shoots will grow up, thus thickening the hedge.”

Coppicing on the Farm at Burrough Court in 2023.

How hedgerows improve UK biodiversity?

Britain’s wildlife has faced a dramatic decline, with 41% of species diminishing since 1970 and over 10% now on the brink of extinction [Soil Assocation]. By planting more hedgerows we can revive our natural heritage. Hedgerows are more than just barriers; they are bustling wildlife corridors, teeming with life. They harbour diverse plants like brambles, whose sweet nectar supports bees and butterflies, and provide berries that feed birds such as song thrushes and yellowhammers. Notably, sightings of these birds on the Burrough Farm have increased following recent hedgerow plantings, highlighting how such simple actions can significantly bolster our ecosystem. Let’s continue this vital work to safeguard our wildlife.

Did you know that … “130 wildlife species live and thrive in hedgerows who are listed as priorities under the government’s Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP)”

Soil Association

Home to the hedgehog

Hedgerows offer hedgehogs vital shelter and a diverse diet with mice, frogs, worms, caterpillars, slugs, toads, and various plants and fruits calling the hedgerow ‘home’ a perfect place to forage, whilst also presenting safe corridors for movement and hibernation.

Did you know … “hedgehogs are important in reflecting our ecosystem health in general, a decline in hedgehogs is likely to reflect a reduction in vital habitats and the insect population too”

Soil Association

How do hedgerows support sustainable farming? 

Hedgerows sequester carbon, bolstering healthier, carbon-rich soils with robust root structures. They’re seen as a swift response to climate change, growing faster than trees and significantly aiding the UK’s goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Hedgerow planting in February 2024 on our farm at Pickwell, Leicestershire

As we look back on the past fifty years, it’s clear that industrial farming, especially post-war mechanisation, has left a significant mark on our landscape. Astonishingly, it’s estimated that half a million miles of hedgerows have been lost in the UK, according to the Soil Association

Reinstating hedgerows not only restores our beautiful countryside but also revives a critical refuge for our native wildlife and a stronghold against climate change. Let’s embrace the charge to safeguard and restore these natural treasures for future generations.