The origins of the hedgerow go all the way back to the Bronze Age, when early farmers cleared woodland to make space for livestock and crops. Remnants of woodland were left around the edges of land to enclose animals and protect crops, and some of these ancient hedgerows still exist today.

Some hedgerows also formed naturally, when shrubs and trees gained a foothold on the unfarmed edges of cultivated land or in the damp, stony places that couldn’t be farmed. Many more hedgerows were planted to mark boundaries following the Enclosure Acts which began in the 17th century.

It’s estimated that there are almost 250,000 miles of ‘managed’ hedgerows in the UK, but we are losing thousands of miles each year to development, agriculture and a lack of management.

This is an alarming statistic for a number of reasons. A hedgerow is so much more than a simple field boundary. These green borders are a literal lifeline for wildlife, offering shelter, living accommodation and food within often inhospitable land surrounding them. They are the connecting links between larger habitats, such as woodlands, enabling wildlife to move from one place to another.

Hedgerows - particularly those that have been around for a while - can support a huge variety of wildlife.

Look closely along the length of an old hedgerow and you’ll likely see many woody species thickly entwined together – such as hawthorn, blackthorn, spindle, holly, guelder rose and crab apple. Scrambling through the woody growth you might discover wild honeysuckle, prickly bramble and ivy, with taller trees overtopping it like oak, field maple and beech. At the base of the hedge, thriving in the shelter it provides, you’ll often find an abundance of wildflowers such as bluebells, red campion, stitchwort and frothy cow parsley.

Many birds nest within the woody fortress of the hedge, enjoying the dense protection it provides. According to the RSPB, at least 30 bird species nest in hedgerows, including whitethroats, linnets, yellowhammers, dunnocks and song thrushes. Some 1,500 insect species have been recorded in species-rich hedgerows, from beetles that shelter in the tussocky undergrowth beneath the hedge to butterflies and moths that rely on them for food and breeding places.

Many mammals too depend on hedgerows for survival. The concentration of insects around hedgerows make them perfect hunting grounds for bats, and it is also known that they use hedges as a navigation aid as they travel through the landscape. Bats use echolocation to find their way, sending out sound waves and listening for their return as they bounce off objects in the landscape. In an otherwise open landscape such as farmland, the presence of hedgerows ensures they can find their way back to their roosting sites.

Hedgerows are vital for dormice too. These nocturnal mammals spend their lives climbing among the branches of trees and hedges, rarely coming down to the ground. Following their winter hibernation, they emerge in May to feast on hawthorn pollen and honeysuckle nectar, often venturing into dense hedgerows to find these delicacies. Summer breeding nests can be created in the dense, knotted branches near to the base of a hedge, and sustenance is sought from caterpillars, aphids and then juicy blackberries as the year progresses in autumn.

We've also recently completed a project with the Newt Conservation Partnership, planting hedges at our Community Woodland in Wilstead to help improve the terrestrial habitat of the area for newts.

It is not only wildlife that benefits from our hedgerows

Hedgerows are an increasingly important tool in fighting the climate emergency. In addition to tree-planting, expanding our hedgerow network will help to absorb more atmospheric carbon, as well as protecting soils from erosion and filtering out pollution particles in the air that we breathe. 

Looking after, or ‘managing’ our hedgerows, is crucial if we are to support the wildlife that depends on them. If unmanaged, they will become thinner at the base, losing the dense, protected structure that is valued by so many species.

Hedges that have become ‘gappy’ at the bottom can be rejuvenated by hedge laying. This is a traditional country skill that involves partially cutting through the woody stems at the base of the hedge, bending them and intertwining them, filling in any gaps and encouraging new growth.

There are many organisations offering advice on hedgerow management for wildlife, and a good starting point is Hedgelink (

Help us plant and restore more hedgerows in the Forest

Hedgerows form an important part of the work we do creating wildlife corridors and connecting habitat across the Forest and in our Community Woodlands. To help us plant and maintain more hedgerows please consider joining with a small monthly donation:

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