The considerable ecological value of a hedgerow should not be underestimated. Depending on its age, a hedgerow can be made up of a considerable number of tree and shrub species and provide a habitat to support a variety of plants and animals. Species commonly associated with hedgerows include a variety of bat species, dormice and other mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians such as the Great Crested Newt, insects and a variety of fungi, plants, lichens and mosses.
What's the story?
The history of the hedgerow goes back a long way. Hedgerows have been part of the English landscape since the Bronze Age and many are in excess of 500 years old. The majority were planted in the 18th and 19th centuries, with 200,000 miles of hedgerow set out between 1750 and 1850. Many were planted to mark Parish boundaries and other important land segregations.
We are all familiar with what a hedgerow looks like - a narrow strip of vegetation comprising a variety of shrubs and certain trees that divide up areas of land. We've all seen them at one time or another but, at the rate at which they have been declining over the last few decades, they are becoming an increasingly rare sight and one that future generations may find hard to find or, indeed, may miss out on altogether. Hedgerow loss has occurred for a variety of reasons. Some have been removed to open up areas of land due to changes in land use; some lost due to urban spread and many simply replaced with walls or fences to reduce maintenance.
Hedgerows and golf
The presence of a hedgerow on the golf course is a relatively rare sight. However, in a golf course situation they can be an attractive, interesting and practical feature as well being of great ecological benefit. Hedgerows create substantial barriers. Once established, they create a dense belt of woody vegetation that is very difficult to penetrate and therefore they are extremely useful as security features in areas of the golf course that may be vulnerable to trespassers. Their size and density also offer very effective screening from both the visual and acoustic impacts of roads and other factors that may distract the golfer.
The situations of hedgerows can vary greatly. They often simply divide up two identical areas of land; they may form a border around an area of land protecting livestock from a ditch at the other side or they may form a barrier between agricultural land and roadways.
Hedgerows can be found in many different localities and, because of this, the species composition can vary greatly. Different species thrive in different situations. Factors such as aspect, soil type, nutrient availability, water availability, environmental conditions and pollution all influence what can survive and where.
To put into perspective their value as a wildlife habitat, hedgerows occupy more land area than all UK nature reserves put together. In total, they support 15% of our native broad-leaved trees, 600 species of flowering plant, 1,500 species of insect, 65 species of bird and 20 species of mammal. To say they are diverse in flora and fauna would be a vast understatement.
A key role that hedgerows play is that they are effectively a long narrow belt of vegetation that provides a habitat link that allows species to pass safely from one to another. This 'connectivity' is vital for many species to prevent them from becoming isolated in a single area. For instance, Dormice populations are directly related to hedgerow width, height and diversity, and their numbers are declining along with the hedgerow.
For those golf clubs or other land owners lucky enough to have retained stretches of hedgerow, there are now regulations in
place to protect them. The Government Hedgerow Regulations 1997 protects 'important' hedgerows. Taking into account the recent rate of decline, all hedgerows should be deemed as important but, in this instance, the regulations pertain to hedgerows of a certain age (over 300 years), size (over 20 metres long), species content, historical significance and certain other factors including their locality to banks, mounds, ditches and other watercourses.
In addition to these regulations, some trees within hedgerows may be subject to tree preservation orders. If a club does have a hedgerow within its grounds, it is well worth checking out its protection status.
Although hedgerows have been in severe decline throughout the latter half of the 20th century, the protective measures put in place are beginning to slow their loss. Indeed, the planting of new hedgerows is now being positively encouraged. Bearing in mind the benefits mentioned earlier, the planting of new hedgerows should be considered as an ecologically friendly, practical, and secure method of segregation on the golf course.
There is plenty of literature available on how to establish a new hedgerow and, whilst they take a number of years to mature, they can be protected from trampling and, indeed, the golf course from intruders, simply by laying a thick mesh of hawthorn cuttings along both sides of the hedgerow. Once established, the benefits of a hedgerow will far outweigh those of artificial methods of segregation.
Hedgerow management on the golf course
To maintain a healthy hedgerow, it needs to be managed. They require trimming every few years and occasionally coppiced to prevent the woody plants separating out into individual trees. This would be best done on a phased basis, focussing management on one third of the hedgerow per year (i.e. full maintenance working on a three-year rotational basis). When carrying out management, take care not to take out young establishing trees. These should be left alone and allowed to develop. Maintaining this infrequent management programme can keep a hedgerow looking at its best almost indefinitely.
Hedgerows provide a unique degree of connectivity for species around the country and their presence as part of our landscape should be both preserved and encouraged.