Hedgerow Survey

This spring I spent several very pleasant days surveying hedgerows on the reserve. We plan to  create a record of all the hedges to include their species composition, connectivity with other habitats and their past management. We will then be able to produce a plan of future management to maintain a wide variety of heights, shapes and age structures across the reserve.  So far I have looked at 3.6 kilometres of hedges and that only accounts for those to the north of the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre!

Most hedgerows have been created by humans, either being left as remnants of ancient woodlands when land was cleared or being planted since the 17th century when agricultural land was enclosed. They have however become incredibly important refuges for wildlife. They are thought to support up to 80% of our woodland birds, 50% of our mammals and 30% of our butterflies.  They connect fragmented areas of woodland, permit amphibians to travel between water bodies with some protection and are used by foraging bats to navigate by.  Not to mention the food they provide by means of nectar, berries and nuts.

Many of the hedges at Rutland Water have been laid in the last few years, both by the reserve’s Habitat Team and also by members of the public attending one of our courses. This is an ancient art of regenerating a hedge whilst providing a livestock proof barrier and also a source of dead wood, great for invertebrates. Carbon dating has been performed on a hedge in a fen in Cambridgeshire which dates a pleacher (a partially cut and laid stem) from 600 BC. Our aim is to have approximately 5% of hedges recently laid or coppiced, 60% between 1m and 3m tall, 30% between 3m and 5m tall and 5% as a line of trees in order to provide the best mix of habitats we can.

Sarah Merriman, Assistant Reserve Officer