A pair of nest-building long-tailed tits flags up the importance of hedgerows. And controversy over their management
While I too often dive into gritty countryside issues, the joy I’ve had from long-tailed tits making their nest in a hedge, is not without a subtle lesson.
Mine’s a lichen
Long-tailed tits are unmistakable. Bustling with extraordinary energy, their activity in a hedge which I lightly trim annually to prevent brambles from inside the hedge invading my vegetable garden, has provided great joy.
While adjusting the camera, they would scold me, yet gratefully receive offerings of cobwebs from my office. They fought over how the nest should be made – which thorn to weave the web onto, how the moss should sit, rejecting unfashionable feathers. See these 10 sec shots of #hedgegoggle.
From when hedges were remnants of old woodland, to those planted in the 15th Century, to the 18th C Enclosure Acts when landlords enclosed common land for grazing – hedgerows have not exactly been symbols of countryside serenity [see Oliver Rackham for the strife they cause].
Shifting Baseline Hedgelines
Connecting habitats within human dominated landscapes – the farmer’s role, as land managers, is to cut hedges at some stage. Whether coppicing and laying over-aged ones, trimming/flailing (semantics and operator skills matter) vigorous growing hedges every 2 or 3 years. All this can result in ecological science conflicting with socio-economic matters, cultural perceptions and carbon capture.
Data is king. Or is it?
Data on birds nesting in hedgerows (such as yellowhammer), is pushing farmers to cut hedges later in the year. This may incur extra enviro costs with compaction to wetter soils or increase financial costs in securing hassled contractors. Some farmers like it overly neat. Twitter is full of context-free demonising videos of hedge trimming of all standards. While other environmentalists insist evidence-based policy trumps any economic challenges. But even the ecological science is complex.
RSPB science says tightly cut hedges protect nesting birds from corvids. This paper from 2009 says birds rebound after hedge cutting, whereas this research says there should be no new hedges near open meadows.
Hedges are vital for bats, moths and insects as well as birds. Image if we engaged in critically constructive dialogue on how evidence-informed policy might sit within socio-ecological issues alongside other objectives such as reaching carbon-zero goals and maintaining cultural landscapes….
I’ll leave the final word to the departing 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.”