A pair of nest-building long-tailed tits flags up the importance of hedgerows. And occasional controversy over their management.
Mine’s a lichen
Long-tailed tits are unmistakable. Bustling with extraordinary energy, their activity in a thorn meshed hedge which I trim to prevent it invading my veg patch, provides joy to many.
While adjusting the nature cam, 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. Enjoy these 10 sec films of the long-tailed tits via hashtag #hedgegoggle.
When hedges were remnants of old woodland, to those planted in the 15th century, through to 18th century Enclosure Acts when landlords started to enclose common land – hedgerows have not exactly been symbols of countryside serenity. See Oliver Rackham for early strife around hedges.
Shifting Baseline Hedgeline
These evolving habitats within human dominated landscapes require farmers, as land managers, is to cut hedges at some stage. The use of a blade is required. Coppicing to the ground the reinvigorates new growth from the ‘stools’. This may then be laid after 10 years or more likely trimmed or flailed. Yes, semantics and operator skills do matter. To avoid running into a line of trees, a healthy hedge requires a trim every 2 or 3 years. Here’s a great nuanced thread on the matter.
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 (such as yellowhammer) nesting seasons, is pushing farmers to cut hedges later in the year. This can incur environmental costs by compacting soils or increase financial costs in securing time-poor contractors.
Twitter is not much help on the issue. Littered with context-free demonising pictures of hedge actions of all standards! Think of your audience –
via blog Acting on land
Evidence-based policy and snapshot well-meaning tweets may trump economic challenges and ignore even the most thornily complex ecological science.
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. Of course, it’s not just about the birds. Adaptively managed trimming generally works better than prescriptive tick box flailing.
Right hedge, right place, wrong blade
Hedges are vital for bats, moths and insects as well as birds. Can we engage in better critical dialogue on how evidence-informed policy is framed within socio-ecological competing narratives from COP26 carbon-zero goals to maintaining long term cultural landscapes?
I’ll leave the final word to a recent 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.”