October has nearly ended and with the temperature dropping everywhere, we’re soon to welcome some of our bird winter migrant visitors, Fieldfares, Redwings and if you’re lucky, Waxwings.
When these birds arrive they feed in the fields but also on the hawthorn berries in the hedgerows, especially when the ground freezes . Many of our resident birds also rely on hedgerow berries during the winter months, yellow hammers, thrushes, blackbirds, greenfinches, chaffinches, starlings and many others
Fortunately, hedge removal by farmers in the 1960’s has ended, and many farmers have replaced old hedgerows, vital not only for the birds, but insects, small mammals and some plants as well.
The revival of the practice of hedge laying also aids wildlife by thickening up the base of the hedge. If hedges are left uncut they turn into trees and have bare ground beneath. In the first year or two the plant thickens up the base but produces little or no berries, but once re-grown the berries come back in force.
It’s important therefore that hedges are laid in sections, say 50m per year, leaving the rest of the hedge for this years berries.
At Wimpole and many other places, training courses in hedge laying are arranged to keep this practice alive.
Hedges are laid roughly every 15+years
What is needed is a variety of hedge plants and a variety of heights; stubby laid hedges, medium height hedges and some tall ones. Adding to the diversity of habitat are the hedgerow trees, oaks, ash, maple and some large hawthorns
Whilst praising some farmers for their hedge replacements, there’s a need to educate some to leave the cutting of hedges until late winter, February time, this would leave the berries intact for the birds.
These two photos make the hedges look neat and tidy, but what use is it to hungry birds, just look at the left hand photo.
One practice that could be done is to cut 50 metres in one place, leave a long stretch of hedge uncut then cut another 50m, at least the birds will get something, then alternate the cutting in the following year or so
There are probably many good reasons to cut hedges earlier in the year, winter sowing of crops, the need to get on the fieldside ground before it gets too wet and muddy, this is not difficult to understand. However the roadsides of hedges don’t have to be cut until later unless there is a good safety reason, they don’t need topping off either but remember in a mild winter some hedge nesting birds breed early so it would be a good idea to watch the weather and do the pre-spring cut before birds start to nestnest.
This photo illustrates what happens when hedges are cut too early in the year, the machinery stopped short of the telegraph poles so as not to damage it leaving a bush of berries – just think of how many berries would be left if the hedge were not cut early.
Below an uncut bird friendly hedge
This plea about hedges is added to the plea not to unnecessarily cut roadside verges during the summer months.
Not only do hedges provide feed for birds insects and mammals, they also provide some spectacular autumn colours.