Native hedgerows consisting of a wide variety of trees, shrubs and wildflowers are sometimes all that remains of ancient woodland. Most, however, are field boundaries that were planted in the last couple of centuries when enclosure of fields occurred (1).
They are often referred to as “corridors for wildlife” and indeed this phrase aptly describes them. On the hedge bottom beetles, millipedes, centipedes, woodlice, earwigs, mice, pygmy shrews, hedgehogs, frogs, blackbirds, dunnocks and wrens are found (2). Further up the hedgerow robins and finches abound and insect-hungry spiders. Along the edge bees and butterflies look for nectar and pollen while foxes and badgers move along the hedgerows safely hidden as they move from habitat to habitat in search of prey (3).
The practice of grubbing out these magnificent banks of biodiversity has abated somewhat in recent years as local authorities make it a condition in planning permissions that they must be retained (4).
It is good practice to plant new ones on the boundaries of housing estates, school grounds and on the boundaries of single-dwelling sites in the countryside. Unfortunately, the very poisonous, Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) is often planted instead in these situations because it is quick-growing and offers instant privacy (5a;5b). This plant has no biodiversity value, and all parts are poisonous especially the leaves and dark fruits. These contain hydrocyanic acid or cyanide. In woodlands it forms dense shrubberies which exclude all light from native plants in the ground layer such as bluebells. Nothing grows beneath it.
A good alternative evergreen hedge is one composed of either yew or holly. The latter is impenetrable when it reaches a certain height, though it is slow-growing (6a; 6b).