A hedgerow is a line of shrubs interspersed by trees along the edge of a road or field. The hedgerow serves as a barrier for livestock, a boundary between two fields, or between an area of land and the road. The hedgerow also provides wind and sun shelter for animals and crops, aids drainage and helps to prevent soil erosion. There is considerable variety of shrubs and trees in hedgerows, and some include walls or banks and ditches. Hedgerows are generally manmade structures but can include ancient woodland remnants from early land clearance. The trees in Irish hedgerows are generally broadlleaved with hawthorn being commonly used as it is fast-growing and its prickly branches make it difficult to breach.
Hedgerows are nature's motorways ... they're the means - an example of green infrastructure - by which wildlife in all its biodiversity moves throughout the land. Small mammals, insects, butterflies, plants and even birds use hedgerows to travel from one region to another. The hedgerow provides a corridor along which to move, shelter from the elements, find safety from predators and a supply of food. So wherever hedgerows are removed or damaged, nature loses its means of travel, its source of sustenance, and becomes isolated and more vulnerable.
Hedgerows are a habitat for many native plant and animals species. A well-managed hedgerow can safeguard the habitats contained therein. A wide variety of plant species will in turn support a wide variety of bird and animal life, including both large and small mammals.
To provide an effective livestock barrier, a hedgerow needs to be maintained by trimming back and replanting as necessary and by hedge-laying or coppicing to encourage new growth from ground level. A balance needs to be found since frequent trimming can help to keep the hedgerow dense but treeless, whereas neglect can result in the hedgerow becoming overgrown with tall trees and gaps.
Regrettably, many hedgerows are disappearing under our noses as smaller fields are amalgamated to make bigger ones which can be managed more efficiently. Road widening and development also leads to the loss or diminishment of hedgerows. The result is that wildlife loses its ability to move through the countryside, and habitats become isolated and cannot be renewed so that they become weakened.
The fact that animals & birds depend upon hedgerows to travel and spread throughout a region explains how their loss is intimately linked to the loss of biodiversity which itself is under increasing threat from human activity and population pressure. And yet we depend upon a healthy biodiversity for our own human well being. We need to protect and safeguard these ecological corridors, and find ways to co-exist.
Existing hedgerows need to be maintained and protected. In Ireland, the Wildlife (Amendment) Act, 2000 protects hedgerows and section 46 of the Act updates Section 40 of the 1976 Act to provide an increased protection period for them. It reads: "It shall be an offence for a person to cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy, during the period beginning on the 1st day of March and ending on the 31st day of August in any year, any vegetation growing on any land not then cultivated." and "It shall be an offence for any person to cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy any vegetation growing in any hedge or ditch during the period mentioned [above]."
Hedgerows can be reconstructed where they have been taken away and restored where they have been damaged. The Golden Mile is organised by Galway County Council and involves local parishes and rural communities. The initiative fosters a greater appreciation and awareness of local roadscapes amongst rural dwellers and visitors through careful preservation & maintenance of flora and fauna, ditches, traditional stone walls, and other natural & manmade features including hedgerows.
- St. Francis