The countryside needs more hedges but, says CRT chairman Nicholas Watts, a double hedge is better than a single! 

Hedgerows have been a feature of the countryside for as long as we have been farming the land. But the simple truth is, the humble hedgerow has been in decline due to the way modern farming demands larger fields with less barriers to maximise yield. As hedgerows have declined, so have the species that rely on them for shelter, food, and nesting. 

This is why we’re a supporter of fellow countryside charity the CPRE’s campaign to call on the government to commit to set a target of 40% more hedgerows by 2050. If you haven’t already, you can add your name to their petition here:

Take action for hedgerows - CPRE, the countryside charity 

Frighteningly, we’ve lost nearly half our hedgerows since the late 1940s. When you consider how much benefit a large network of healthy hedgerows brings to improving biodiversity and locking carbon in, it’s really a basic equation that more hedgerows will result in a huge and positive environmental impact. 

A network of healthy hedgerow is an ecosystem providing food and shelter for all manner of birds, insects, and mammals. We know from our wildlife monitoring that the hedgerows on our farms are vital for many species. From the winter visiting redwing and fieldfare at Lark Rise Farm, to the dormice at Turnastone and Awnells, it’s the habitat created by mature and well-managed hedgerows that allows these species to survive and hopefully thrive. 

CRT Chairman, Nicholas Watts, whose Vine House Farm lies in the flatlands of The Fens, says that they don’t have many hedges in his area. This is because it has always been more arable-oriented than livestock, and 100 years ago hedges were essentially a means to keep your livestock in the field. Plus of course, The Fens has its famous irrigation dykes that can act as a boundary.

But Nicholas has planted many yards of good hedgerow for their wildlife-friendly benefits. He now has 1500 yards of hedges at Vine House Farm, and not just single hedge either, he’s opted for double hedgerows. 

 “A single hedge on its own is quite a draughty place. Instead, I have been planting two hedges 10 yards apart, which makes a lot better habitat than a single hedge. Experts say that you get four times the amount of wildlife in a double hedge than you do in a single hedge, so if you are keen on wildlife, why not plant a double hedge?” 

Six years after a hedge has been planted, Nicholas takes the tree guards off to lay the hedge. Styles of hedge laying differ around the country, but effectively it’s all about boosting growth right from the bottom, usually by partially cutting it on one side and laying the branches down at an angle. As growth is stimulated, the hedge thickens, making it less draughty and much cosier for the wildlife that frequents it. 

“Between the two hedges I have planted wildflowers and the double hedges have been planted next to ponds I’ve dug. The ponds go right across the field, the same length as the hedges. These areas are full of wildlife.” 

A survey carried out by Farmers Weekly showed that farmers blame a lack of funding as one of the main reasons not enough hedges are being planted or maintained. Which is why it’s so important that the government recognise the role of hedgerows and enables the farmers managing the countryside to protect and preserve them. 

The Farmers Weekly report went onto reveal the vast majority of farmers would create more hedgerow if the environmental land management schemes (ELMS) incentivised doing so.  

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