Roselle Chapman, Community Ecologist
As part of our Oxfordshire Hedgerow Heroes Project, funded by CPRE (Campaign to Protect of Rural England), we partnered with the Watlington Green Plan, a collaboration between Watlington Environment Group (www.watlington-environment-group.org.uk) and Watlington Climate Action Group (www.watlingtonclimateaction.org.uk). Over the past couple of years local volunteers paved the way for this work by surveying around 90% of the parish’s hedges and assessing their current state by looking at hedge height, width and density, management, and species diversity
Working with three landowners, atenant grazier and under the expert guidance of Nigel Adams, work got underway in November 2021. We started with West Meadow, owned by a local charity, where the existing hedges had not been managed for many years. Some sections were close to collapse and needed, what initially seemed to be, drastic action to ensure their survival. Sections of the existing hedgerow were coppiced (cut to the base) using a machine called a 'tree shear'. Some of the healthier hedgerow trees were just lightly trimmed to maintain both the habitat they provide and their landscape value. Initially, the results appeared brutal, but most of the stumps will re-shoot and there are some small self-set plants already present which, given more light, can now thrive.
Over 2 planting sessions an ebullient team of 45 volunteers, fuelled by Orange Bakery cinnamon buns worked their magic. In total we ‘gapped up’ 320m of coppiced hedgerow and created 60m of new hedgerow by hand planting mixed species 'whips' (young hedgerow plants) of locally common native species included hawthorn, hazel, spindle, buckthorn, field maple, crab apple, dog rose and wild plum, all chosen to provide an extended flowering season and varied food source for wildlife. All the new plants are protected with spirals. With the healthy rabbit population in the area there was no feasible alternative. We don’t like seeing the countryside covered in plastic any more than anyone else. As we used compostable spirals and preloved spirals from a previous project. The spirals will be removed (and hopefully reused) in due course.
Eynsham and surrounding parishes Nature Recovery Network and Kidlington Parish Council also rolled up their sleeves and mobilised significant people power to plant new hedges and rejuvenate and gap up existing hedges. Thank you to all of our amazing, hardworking partners: community groups, parish councils, landowners, skilled contractors and local experts who generously gave so much of their time in cold, wet and heat to get this project over the line. We believe that it has resulted in more, healthier, and better-connected hedges across the three project areas of Watlington, Eynsham and Kidlington, reinforcing the character of the landscape, boosting resilience to climate change and in line with Oxfordshire Biodiversity Action Plan targets. By creating opportunities for practical involvement and engagement it has also generated a better understanding and appreciation of the glory and importance of hedges within those communities.
The project’s final statistics are as follows:
Local film maker Nicola Schafer documented the whole process through short films which can be seen on Watlington Climate Action Group’s YouTube Channel.
"The strength of the Oxfordshire project was in its grassroots engagement with communities, building up a whole network of people who are now inspired to care for their local hedgerows. It’s been a great partnership between Wild Oxfordshire and CPRE Oxfordshire and we hope this can be repeated in the future." Helen Marshall, Director CPRE Oxfordshire.
If you are hoping to survey your parish hedgerows or already have done so and need advice on next steps then please get in touch. If your group or parish council are looking for grant funding to plant new hedgerows applications are now open for the following schemes
They are all slightly different, so there is something for everyone. And don’t forget that The Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment (TOE) next grant application deadline this year is on 12 October 2022. Next year, their application deadlines will be on 9 January, 3 April, 3 July and 2 October 2023. Not forgetting Wild Oxfordshire’s Hedgerow Training Day, 5th November in Watlington.