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Hedgerow hunting

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Oct 10 2016 08:47AM

Ancient hedgerows are a haven for Britain's wildlife. These complex ecosystems act as an important refuge for birds, small mammals and insects. For the forager, they're brimming with fruits and nuts in early autumn.

Hedgerows traditionally marked the boundaries between estates and parishes. Some are the remnants of ancient woodlands but most were planted by landowners keen to protect their territory and to prevent livestock escaping. In particular, the Inclosure Acts of the 18th and 19th Centuries led to hedges been planted all over the country. You might think they’re a common sight in the countryside but after the Second World War thousands of miles - up to one third - of Britain's hedgerows were lost as a result of modern agricultural methods. The industrialisation of food and mechanised farming meant a demand for bigger fields in which large machinery could easily operate. These days we have a deeper understanding of the hedgerow's importance as a habitat and they are protected by law.

Hedgerows are home to hundreds of different plant and animal species. They also provide safe corridors for wildlife to move between larger areas of woodland. On an autumnal ramble, why not play a game of I Spy, spotting the different plants and creatures hanging out in the hedgerow?

For accurate identification arm yourself with a guide and look out for:

• Trees like oak, ash, elder and crab apple.

• Thorny shrubs like hawthorn, blackthorn and wild roses.

• Small mammals like voles, weasels, squirrels, hedgehogs and bats.

• Insects like stag beetles, bees and butterflies.

• Birds like blue tits, chaffinches, and blackbirds as well as pheasants and partridge during the game season.

How old is your local hedgerow?

While you're enjoying your ramble, try working out the age of your local hedgerow. Hooper's Hedgerow Hypothesis works on the rule of thumb that one new large species will establish itself in a hedge every century. So, pace out a 30 metre stretch of hedge, count the number of different woody species you find and multiply that number by 100 - you'll have the approximate age, in years, of your hedge. The oldest man-made hedgerows in the UK are thought to have been planted nearly a thousand years ago.

Did you know...? The word hedge actually comes from ‘haeg’, the Anglo-Saxon name for the hawthorn. One of the reasons the hawthorn was so commonly planted is that its wood burns slowly and produces lots of heat; it was the perfect fuel for stoves and fires.

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