Hedges across our agricultural landscapes are ecologically and culturally important. Sadly, the overall length of hedges across Great Britain has declined in the past 60 years with serious loss of important habitats for many species.
Biodiversity or species richness means that there should be as wide a variety of living organisms sharing specific habitats. Healthy and well managed hedges with varied vegetation should support many different animals. Existing garden hedges should be retained or installed within new developments not just as a means of increasing biodiversity but because they are attractive. Species such as beech, hawthorn, hornbeam, holly, and yew are ideal, and their structure provides suitable locations for nest construction by blackbirds, dunnocks, robins and wrens. Festoons of honeysuckle and ivy help hide such nests from prying eyes. house sparrows often gather on sunny well clipped privet hedges. Such native plant species provide ideal food for many caterpillars. 100 meters of a hawthorn hedge may host as many as 21,000 moth caterpillars, ideal food for hungry nestlings! Large numbers of spiders are a vital addition to a balanced diet for young blue tits and other birds.
The leathery leaves of laurel or Photinia do not encourage overall biodiversity as few insects feed on their leaves. Woodpigeons may nest in Leylandii hedges.
Many rural hedges have a wealth of wildflowers at ground level and this can be replicated in a garden situation with species such as bluebells, foxgloves, primroses, red campion and violets to provide additional feeding opportunities for small creatures which in turn feed larger ones.
Hedges around gardens provide shelter, privacy and a varied green backdrop to other plantings and if planted adjacent to a road will help reduce pollution levels. With the right mix of species, they will contribute to providing food for a whole host of animals which share your garden and add to its overall biodiversity.
Pollard, E, Hooper, MD, Moore N. Hedges. Glasgow: William Collins Sons and Co Ltd;1974.
Gosling et al. Differences between urban and rural hedges in England revealed by a citizen science project. BMC Ecol 2016, 16(Suppl 1):S15 DOI 10.1186/s12898-016-0064-1