The hedgerows that criss-cross our countryside are not only an iconic sight, but a vital habitat and corridor for many of our native species. But we must not take their health or their future for granted. Much of what makes hedges such an asset to our land and to our wildlife depends on their health and structure. So we ask – are our hedgerows overdue a health-check?

This month wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), is launching a new survey, the Great British Hedgerow Survey, encouraging landowners to health-check their hedgerows to safeguard the future of this important habitat.

The survey offers instant feedback about the health of each hedge, as well as tailored advice on what type of management will ensure it thrives in the future. The results also provide conservationists with vital data helping build a national picture of the health of Britain’s hedges.

Who can take part?

The Great British Hedgerow Survey is aimed at landowners, farmers, wildlife groups and anyone interested in healthy hedgerows, all of whom are encouraged to complete hedgerow health-checks online.

Landowners and farmers already assess the health of their hedges to guide their ongoing management, but by taking part in the Great British Hedgerow Survey, they will receive detailed and tailored management advice which will introduce the idea of managing hedgerows in a cycle. No matter where on the management cycle your hedges are, this advice will encourage dense healthy structures, returning or keeping them in the healthy area of the cycle.

Why should we care about hedgerows?

Historically we lost about half our hedgerows after WWII. Although thankfully the rates of direct hedge removal have reduced in recent decades, we need to ensure that the way we manage the remaining hedgerows gives them the best chance of flourishing in the future.

Megan Gimber, Key Habitats Project Officer at PTES, explains: “With 70% of UK land being agricultural, hedgerows offer the safest route for wildlife to travel across the countryside. We would love to see a bigger, better and more joined up hedgerow network to give our wildlife the fighting chance of survival they deserve.”

Healthy hedges benefit us

The management advice PTES delivers is based on the lifecycle of a hedge because, like any other living system, they change over time and our management needs to adjust to reflect this. The ultimate goal is to create a thick, dense hedgerow with vegetation all the way to the floor and scattered with hedgerow trees, and it’s this type of hedge that most benefits nature, as well as landowners.

In fact, a good hedgerow network is an asset as valuable to us as it is to our wildlife.

Healthy hedgerows reduce soil erosion as well as air and water pollution. They provide forage for pollinating insects, predators to keep crop pests in check and shelter for livestock, reducing deaths from exposure and improving milk yields. Hedges help us fight climate change through storing carbon, and also reduce the damage from flooding.

Hedgerows and wildlife facts

• One study counted 2070 different species in just one 85m stretch of hedge

• 55% of the priority species associated with hedgerows are dependent, or partially dependent on hedgerow trees

• Poor quality, gappy hedges are detrimental to several farmland bird species

• Since different shrub species flower and fruit at different times, having a wide diversity of plant species extends the flowering and fruiting period. This benefits nectar and pollen feeding invertebrates, and their predator species

• In Britain, habitat fragmentation is thought to be a limiting factor for the distribution of some species and a threat to the survival of others. Corridors play a vital role in the preservation of a number of species deemed to be ‘at risk’ from the impact of habitat fragmentation

• 16 out of the 19 birds included in the Farmland Bird Index, as used by government to assess the state of farmland wildlife, are associated with hedgerows

To take part and/or find out more, visit: