Hedges & Edges - Improving Local Linear Habitats

December 2022

Fiona Danks - Wild Oxfordshire Trustee

Nestled below the Chiltern escarpment to the south-east of Oxford lies the small town of Watlington. This spring-line parish includes mixed woods, scrub and chalk grasslands on the Chiltern slopes and flatter areas of more intensively farmed land below the escarpment. As with so many English parishes, the landscape is criss-crossed by the linear habitats of hedgerows and grass verges.

Hedgerows and verges matter for so many reasons. They provide vital wildlife habitats, connecting wildlife-rich areas of woodland and grassland which would otherwise be isolated and allowing many organisms to move through the countryside. Hedges define our patchwork countryside and have deep cultural roots within the landscape. They help to prevent soil erosion, provide effective stock proof barriers, and offer shelter for livestock. They also capture and store carbon both above ground and in the soil. Many road verges are remnants of ancient species-rich grasslands, supporting a rich diversity of wildflowers and pollinators and improving the wildlife value of adjacent hedgerows. But not all hedgerows and grassland verges are well cared for and many have become increasingly neglected; it is estimated that only 12% of hedges bordering arable fields are in favourable condition. Wild Oxfordshire’s “Hedges and Edges” project seeks to work with local communities to restore and improve some of our county’s hedgerows and verges, increasing biodiversity in these precious living networks.

Watlington Climate Action Group and the Watlington Environment Group have been delivering a hedgerow project through their Green Plan, thanks to the support of Wild Oxfordshire. Local hedge expert Nigel Adams worked with an enthusiastic and dedicated team of volunteers to survey the 45 kilometres of hedgerows in the parish to discover more about their health and diversity. Now they know more about what they have, they can work out ways to work with local landowners to improve the extent and quality of the local hedgerow network, aiming to achieve a mosaic of healthy hedgerows at different stages of growth.

Watlington hedgerow volunteers planting

The Watlington hedgerow project has become an amazing collaboration of local groups and individuals contributing skills and enthusiasm with willingness and openness. Wild Oxfordshire secured funding from The Countryside Charity CPRE, (previously called the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England) and then provided advice, support, and project management for a project to regenerate a neglected hedgerow. Contractors coppiced the overgrown hedgerow plants and local volunteers planted a mix of native hedgerow species to fill in the gaps and create an entirely new hedge. In years to come these species rich hedgerows will provide an incredible habitat for invertebrates, birds and small mammals, and a beautiful flower and berry-rich green boundary for local people to enjoy.

As has been found in Watlington, hedges and road verges provide an appealing starting point to engage new people in delivering local nature recovery and improving connectivity between habitats. Every community has nearby hedgerows and verges, but many are in poor condition. Wild Oxfordshire is currently raising funds through the Big Give so we can support more local community groups to improve their local hedges and edges and strengthen these living networks. We will run training courses for surveying, planting & managing hedgerows & verges. We will provide site specific advice on local hedge & tree planting. We will link communities with funders and produce curated guidance and materials for communities to use.

Please support our Big Give campaign by donating to Wild Oxfordshire between 29thNovember and the 6th of December, when one donation has twice the impact!

Resources to help you care for your hedgerows

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