The benefits of hedgerows – what you need to know

This National Hedgerow Week, let's explore the benefits of hedgerows and how we can help take care of them!

2nd May 2024

We see hedgerows in all rural and urban settings, but have you ever paused for a moment to consider their value to your life? You wouldn’t be on your own if you haven’t.

Often overlooked, the humble hedge is an unsung hero of biodiversity. Sadly, we’ve lost over 50% of our hedgerows in the UK over the last 75 years. So, we’ve teamed up with The Tree Council to explore the benefits of hedgerows, a few key facts about hedgerows, and ways you can help take care of hedgerows.

What is a hedgerow? 

A hedgerow is usually a boundary line that’s made up of several species of plants that are formed in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Some plant species you might discover in a hedge include holly, hawthorn, blackthorn, and hazel; though the hedgerow trees you’re likely to see include ash, oak, and yew. Hedgerows are classed as either ‘managed’ or ‘relict’ – ‘managed’ hedgerows are those whose trees aren’t able to take a natural shape, whereas ‘relict’ hedgerows are planted but not managed.

Benefits of UK hedgerows

As well as creating boundaries for land, hedgerows offer more to us and our environment than you might think… 

Here’s just a snapshot of the benefits offered by hedgerows:

Hedgerows provide habitats for wildlife

Did you know that hedgerows form the largest wildlife habitat in the UK?

For wildlife and pollinators, hedgerows are a lifeline – providing a network for ecosystems to thrive. 

Not only are hedgerows the primary habitat for 12 of the UK’s most threatened bird species, but they also support up to 30% of the UK’s butterflies. One hedgerow can be home to over 2,000 species – including threatened species like dormice, hedgehogs, and barbastelle bats. 

Hazel dormouse on a branch

Ancient trees within hedgerows provide habitats for rare and endangered fungi, lichens, and invertebrates. Plus, since hedgerows are so diverse, frogs, newts, toads, and reptiles call them home, too!

Hedgerows offer shelter 

Wildlife, livestock, and crops need shelter from bad weather to survive, as well as shade from the sun during summer months. 

Thanks to their ability to provide shelter, hedgerows increase the survival rates of lambs because they reduce the effect of wind chill and risk of hypothermia. Additionally, the shelter offered by hedges creates warmer soil, which extends the growing season for crops.  

Hedgerows help to clean the air we breathe

Capturing carbon is another of the hedgerow’s superpowers, since they’re able to seize carbon above ground via wood growth and underground through their roots. Hedgerows can store carbon, too – actively improving our air quality.

As well as fighting against climate change on our behalf, hedgerows reduce pollution through trapping pollution particles and providing a physical barrier to pollutants that’d otherwise reach our watercourses. 

Hedgerows reduce the risk of flooding

Owing to the depth at which their roots grow, hedgerows absorb water like a sponge, instead of allowing it to run off and cause flooding. So, through slowing the movement of water, hedgerows reduce the impact of flooding and can allow extra time to respond to flood warnings.

Hedgerows lessen the impact of drought

Although we don’t tend to associate the UK with blazing sunshine, there are times that we experience the devastating impacts of drought. Thankfully, hedgerows can help!

Deep root structures keep soil firmly in place, which prevents it from being eroded during dry weather. 

Facts about UK hedgerows

In case we haven’t yet convinced you of the awesomeness of hedgerows, here are some facts to help show the importance of the incredible hedge:

  • A hedge is considered a woodland habitat.
  • Hedgerows in the UK stretch over 700,000km – which is 1.5 times the distance to the moon!
  • Thick hedgerows support biosecurity measures on farms, as they reduce animal-to-animal contact – becoming a barrier to the spread of bovine TB, for example.

How to protect UK hedgerows

Wherever you live, it’s possible to take action to protect our precious hedgerows! 

You could get involved in National Hedgerow Week by:

  • Snapping a photo of a hedge you think is magnificent, quirky, or perfectly formed, then sharing it on social media using the hashtag #MyFaveHedge.
  • Signing up to The Tree Council’s free series of ‘Hedge Talk’ webinars to learn more about the wonder of hedgerows. 
  • Raising awareness of our amazing hedgerows by getting the kids involved in creating displays for local libraries via the Green Libraries Partnership.

Other actions you could take to help hedgerows include:

  • Sharing local hedgerow data with the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) through The Great British Hedgerow Survey.
  • Reporting suspected tree health concerns (e.g. you see a dying hedgerow tree) to the Forestry Commission’s research agency, Forest Research, via their TreeAlert monitoring scheme. 
  • Planting a native hedge during autumn or winter. 

Looking for more ways to nurture the nature in your neighbourhood? Check out our ‘Tails’ of UK Wildlife campaign for ideas and inspiration!

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