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Even paradise needs pruning

Using age old techniques, conservation charity Plantlife is giving the ancient hedgerows at Joan’s Hill Farm nature reserve in Herefordshire a much needed make over.

February 11 2015

The new hedgerows at Joan's Hill Farm reserve © Joe Costley/Plantlife

The new hedgerows at Joan's Hill Farm reserve © Joe Costley/Plantlife

Joan’s Hill Farm reserve is a botanical treasure trove and one of the best places in the country to see classic wildflower meadows. Its floral displays are so outstanding that, in 2013, Joan’s Hill was crowned Herefordshire’s Coronation Meadow, in honour of the 60th Anniversary of the Queens’s Coronation. However, even this corner of paradise needs pruning.

As well as stunning native wildflowers, Joan’s Hill is home to over a mile of ancient species-rich hedgerow. This has provided wildlife with a vital source of food shelter for hundreds of years but is now in need of some tender loving care. Thanks to funding from The Veolia Environmental Trust awarded through the Landfill Communities Fund work to restore these important hedgerows to their former glory can now commence.

Plantlife’s Joe Costley who will be leading the work says “It’s fantastic news that we have received funding from The Veolia Environmental Trust to carry out this work.  The hedgerows at Joan’s Hill Farm are vital because they provide food and shelter for a whole host of wildlife and support a diverse range of plants. They are now very overgrown and if we don’t carry out this work they will continue to deteriorate and will eventually become a gappy line of trees which will be of little use to the wildlife. It’s also important that we preserve the landscape of this area. Joan's Hill Farm reserve with its pattern of small fields enclosed by hedgerows and woodlands has remained essentially unchanged since the 1800’s.  This landscape,that is partly defined by the high level of cover given by hedgerow trees and orchard trees, is now rare in the county and need to be protected.” 

Why hedgerows are worth saving:

  • Hedgerows are nature's motorways. 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 if the hedgerows at Joan’s Hill are lost, nature loses its means of travel, its source of sustenance, and becomes isolated and more vulnerable.
  • The hedgerows provide important habitat for birds and at least 18 species are known to use hedges on the reserve for nesting.  These include song thrush, linnet, bullfinch and whitethroat. The hedgerows contain at least 11 woody species including hazel, holly, spindle, field maple and some large mature oak trees. 
  • Grassland adjoining the hedgerow contains a wonderful array of wild flowers including uncommon species such as dyer's greenweed, green-winged orchid, twayblade and pepper- saxifrage.

Plantlife’s guide to creating a happy hedgerow: 

  • The hedgerow restoration will involve "laying" the hedgerow shrubs, which involves cutting and laying down the upright stems - bending them in effect, but leaving enough of the stem uncut to keep the stem alive. 
  • You need to carefully judge the angle to which the stem is laid down in-order to maintain healthy growth but also thicken the base of the hedge.  
  • There are over 30 different styles of hedge laying - we will be using the local Midland style layed hedge which is designed to withstand the pressure of livestock pushing against it. 

The Executive Director of The Veolia Environmental Trust, Paul Taylor, adds, “We were pleased to be able to support this important project and I look forward to hearing about its progress and about how the hedgerows, and the species that call them home, are thriving once again.”