The joyful sight and sound of a pair of nest building long-tailed tits bustling through a hedge flags up the importance of hedgerows.
My blogs can too often dive into gritty countryside issues that distract from the joys out there by there being too much grit in the eye. This one is about the joy I’ve had watching long-tailed tits making their nest in a hedge on the edge of our Black Mountains’ garden. It’s not without a gentle lesson.
The noise of long-tailed tits is unmistakable. Twittering, flitting, bustling with extraordinary energy for such a small bird, they drew my eye to activity in a tall hawthorn, bramble and wild rose hedge that I cut once a year to prevent whips of vicious arm-snagging tentacles from invading the veg garden.
Every time I adjusted the camera with bloodied arm they would scold me, yet gratefully receive offerings of cobwebs from my office and pheasant feathers from my trout fly-tying supplies. They fought over how the nest should be made – which thorn to weave the web onto, how the moss should look over the domed entrance, rejecting uncomfortable looking feathers – enjoy 10 sec snaps of the #hedgegoggle series.
From when hedges were remnants of old woodland, to the first ones planted in the 15th Century, to the Enclosure Acts of the 18th Century when landlords enclosed common land for grazing, hedgerows have not exactly been symbols of countryside serenity. Read Oliver Rackham for the gnarly stuff.
However, all agree that hedges are key to sustaining wildlife habitat, alongside connectivity, within a heavily human dominated landscape utilised by a range of land users resulting in ecological science conflicting with socio-economic matters.
Data on birds nesting in hedgerows (priority species yellowhammer) is pushing farmers to cut hedges later in the year which has their contractors unhappy. Many environmentalists insist that evidence-based policy should trump economic challenges. It’s complex. This science says cut every few years, this one from 2009 says birds rebound, this research says no new hedges near open meadows please.
Any hedge, not just hawthorn or blackthorn, is not without its thorny issues.
If a pair of tiny birds can find the energy to collaborate on melding 3000 fragments into one expandable nest, we can try harder to find the energy to talk to each other on seeking to frame evidence-informed policy within socio-ecological pressures.
I’ll leave the final word to the head of the BTO: “To be of most value, scientific findings need a practical application through engagement with stakeholders – often practitioners in the management of countryside.”