Planting hedges is vital for the wellbeing of wildlife - a column by Paul Barnes, estate manager of South Ormsby Estate

Spanning 3,000 acres of beautiful countryside in the Lincolnshire Wolds, it’s no small effort to care for the South Ormsby Estate and one of the tasks which makes the biggest difference is something you might never consider; hedge planting.

People here have been laying hedges since the bronze age, but hedges couldn’t be more important for the countryside.
People here have been laying hedges since the bronze age, but hedges couldn’t be more important for the countryside.

Far from being simply a way of dividing fields, hedges play a vital role in rural areas, particularly for wildlife conservation and improving the productivity of land.

Beginning as a way of outlining land ownership and controlling livestock, people here have been laying hedges since the bronze age, but they couldn’t be more important for the countryside.

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All year round, hedgerows are teeming with wildlife: They provide food and shelter to birds, bats, insects, rabbits, voles, dormice and hedgehogs; many animals make nests or hibernate in hedges, and they also serve as a miniature highway for animals to safely travel across the land without being exposed to predators or inclement weather.

Hedges are also an excellent means of carbon storage, helping to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and diffusing pollutants in the air, on top of this, they add fantastic protection for livestock to shelter from the wind (which can be pretty blustery up on the Lincolnshire Wolds!). To add to this in certain locations we are introducing grass margins alongside the hedgerows which will add greater biodiversity areas for wildlife and pollinators.

In all, hedges are a critical part of our countryside and some date back thousands of years.

This is why I’m so proud that one of our visions is to restore some of the historic hedge rows across South Ormsby Estate which have disappeared over the years, and also to create new ones for future generations to see and even lay!

Last week, we completed the first 200 metres of new hedgerow planting, as part of a project to plant some 1,300 metres of new field boundaries across the estate this year. We’ll also be filling gaps in existing hedgerows along with laying and coppicing around the estate and planting a lot more trees.

Unfortunately, hedgerows have been disappearing throughout the 20th century, with the mechanisation of farming meaning that larger fields and fewer enclosures helped to improve efficiency. Meanwhile, poor management, neglect and over-trimming has led to even more being lost. In 1946, there were an estimated 500,000 miles of hedgerow in England, but this had more than halved by 1993.

Thanks to new protections and policies from the late 90s, the loss of hedgerows has gradually reversed. Financially though, there’s never been a better time to work on projects like this; government funding under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme means we can recover around £11 per meter of hedgerow planted but it still takes a lot of work to create the hedgerow properly and in a sustainable manner.

You’ll be familiar with the twirled plastic which is used to support saplings before they can become established, and we also need to protect the plants from ground movements, weeds and curious (and hungry) wildlife using plastic sheeting. While this might look wasteful, the canes and guards will be recycled, while the sheeting we use is biodegradable. We’re also trialing some biodegradable guards as an alternative solution.

In weather like this, it’s a chilly job which takes a lot of dedication from our team, but it’s immensely rewarding and I’m looking forward to seeing these new hedges grow and thrive in the coming months and years. After all, the hedges we plant today could still be growing hundreds or even thousands of years from now and they all help to make our countryside a real ecological haven.