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 the pair of long-tailed tits making their nest in a hedge on the edge of our garden, is still not without a gentle lesson.
Long-tailed tits are unmistakable. Twittering, flitting, bustling with extraordinary energy for such a small bird, their activity drew me to a hedge that I lightly trim once a year to prevent whips of bramble and rose tentacles from invading the veg garden.
While adjusting the camera with thorn-bloodied arm, they would scold me, yet gratefully receive offerings of cobwebs from my office and 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 entrance, reject uncomfortable looking feathers. See the various 10 sec films of the #hedgegoggle series on Twitter.
From when hedges were remnants of old woodland, to those planted in the 15th Century, and 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 chapter and verse on this stuff.]
But most agree today that managed hedges are one key to sustaining farmland wildlife, connecting habitats within human dominated landscapes utilised by a range of users – one of whom has to cut the hedges at some stage (whether annually or every 2 or 3 years). This can result in ecological science conflicting with socio-economic matters.
Data is king
Data on birds nesting in hedgerows (such as yellowhammer) is forcing farmers to cut hedges later in the year which may incur extra costs, make it harder to secure contractors or result in compaction to waterlogged soils. Some environmentalists insist that evidence-based policy should trump economic challenges, but it’s complex.
This RSPB science says tightly cut hedges protect nesting birds from corvids, this paper from 2009 says birds rebound after hedge flailing, whereas this research says there should be no new hedges near open meadows please.
If a pair of tiny birds can find the energy to collaborate on blending 3000 fragments into one nest, us humans could try harder to find the energy to talk to each other a little more to work out how evidence-informed policy has to sit 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.”
[Click here for my new ‘Reconciliation Countryside’ service]