Native hedges are one of our most diverse wildlife habitats.  Many birds rely on hedges for nesting and for their fruits and seeds; insects get shelter and food plants and small mammal use them as shelter.  In urban areas especially they can be the closest habitat to the native woodland available.

Hedges are also attractive features in the countryside and in urban areas.  They are important barriers in farmland and a good dense hawthorn hedge around a garden or park  is one of the best forms of anti-burglar barriers.   

Hedges also help to stop erosion through acting as wind breaks and reducing water runoff.

Hedge planting

Planting new native hedges is one of the most effective ways to increase the wildlife value of parks, gardens and open spaces. They help to break up large otherwise barren areas without taking too much space away from other uses.  For example hedges cab be planted next to boundary fences around sports grounds to help reduce the effects of wing and make the areas more attractive as well as improving the wildlife value.  The same is true in parks, schools and many open spaces. 

Native hedges tend to have more wildlife value than hedges composed of non-native species.  Planting a mixture of species make the hedge even more attractive to wildlife and to look at.  The different species will have different flowering time, different leaf colours, etc and using some evergreen shrubs (e.g. holly) means that the hedge will have colour all year round.  Native species can also be planted into gaps in existing hedge to improve the wildlife value. 

CEL have planted hedges on many sites throughout London, often working alongside school children and other volunteers.  Hedge planting is a great way to involve the community in their local sites.

Hedge laying 

Hedge laying is a traditional way to manage hedges.  The trunks of the bushes are cut most of the way through and then bent over and woven  together.  Wooden stakes are put i to support them and willow or other flexible binders are twisted along the top of the stakes to hold everything together.  The laid bushes quickly grow into a dense barrier results in dense growth making a good habitat for many birds and insects. 

In the past this was usually to make barrier stock proof and this is till the case in farmland and rural areas.  In town and other urban hedge laying is sometimes carried out to improve security around gardens and open spaces.  CEL have even laid a hedge in a churchyard in St John's Wood.

Hedge management

Hedges need to be trimmed periodically to ensure that they do not become too overgrown. Formal hedges tend to be trimmed regularly to keep them neat and tidy but a wildlife hedge requires much less maintenance. Usually all they need is an annual cut in the late autumn or winter (after the berries have been eaten by birds and before the bird breeding season).  Ideally only part of the hedge should be cut each year to allow other sections to remain as sanctuary areas for birds and insects.