Hedgerow spring in the Wildlife Garden | UK Wildlife

At this time of year, we find a ‘first flower’ of the season almost every day. Last week, a guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus) I had been watching closely in one of the hedges came into flower (nearly a month earlier than last year) and on the bank below it a columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) came into flower joining greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea) wood millet (Milium effusum) and red campion (Silene dioica).

Photo with a circle of emerging white flowers in the centre surrounding buds, with green leaves in the background.
Guelder-rose in blossom

Just a couple of months ago when these plants were not even in bud we were completing our winter coppicing and hedge-laying programme. Coppicing continues on rotation. Some of the coppiced hazel is used for stakes and binders for hedges as illustrated below.

Laid hedges have featured here since the garden was created 22 years ago. The originally-planted hedges have been re-laid, with hedge-laying demonstrated by woodland conservationist and hedge-layer, Rob Graham, during special Museum events celebrating the biodiversity of hedgerows.

Hedge-laying is one of the best ways to restore a hedge and encourage new growth and in February this year, Daniel, wildlife gardener/ecologist with us during 2015, returned and deftly transformed a perimeter hedge from a spindly row of hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), field maple (Acer campestre), hazel (Corylus avellana) and holly (Ilex aquifolium) into an attractive, stock-proof barrier.

Photo with a man crouched down in the bottom right of the image, using a tool to put a trimmed stick into place in the hedge he is laying. To the left the edge of the northwest corner of the Museum is visible, and trees fill the centre and far right of the image.
Daniel laying a perimeter hedge close to the Darwin Centre

The stems (known as pleachers) are cut near the base of the plant, as shown below, and bent over at an angle of approximately 30o . From this cut the plant soon develops new shoots that quickly grow (especially in the case of hawthorn or quick as it is sometimes called) – helping to make the hedge thicker.

Close up photo with the base of the stem in the centre right of the image, showing the angle of the cut through the stem to form a point. The sawn wood is bright, creamy white against the brown green of the stem and the browner grassy ground.
Detail showing the cut through the stem of a hawthorn

Stakes are placed half a metre apart along the hedge line, between the hedging plants,

Photo with the hedge being laid stretching from bottom right corner to near top middle of the photo. Daniel is near the far end of the hedge on the left and James in a bright red coat and Nicola in navy blue and a woolly hat to the right.
Stakes in position, James and Nicola at hand to help, Daniel starts placing the binders

The long binders are then woven through the stakes

Photo with hedge stretching from bottom right to near the left-top of the image. Daniel, wearing a red and blue check shirt and navy blue dungarees, is standing next to the hedge to the centre left of the photo, positioning the bindings.
Daniel weaves the binders through the stakes and hedge plants

Finally the stakes are trimmed neatly to the same height. The stakes and binders were sourced from hazel coppiced in the garden’s woodland areas.

There are around thirty methods of hedge-laying in the country, each developed according to local farming needs, climate and species available. For example, sheep farming would require a dense network of branches at the base of the hedge to prevent sheep escaping. Our new hedge will be put to test when the sheep return in August this year.

In addition to providing a sturdy and prickly barrier, hedges are an important contribution to the garden’s mosaic of habitats providing interest to our visitors by illustrating those found in the wider landscape and showing what is possible in urban areas. The Wildlife Garden’s hedges are included on the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s list of flagship species and sites in their local Biodiversity Action Plan.

The dense bushy growth promoted by hedge-laying provides wildlife with good shelter and protective corridors connecting the different habitats. Many animals benefit including small mammals, amphibians and birds. At this time of year, blackbirds in particular favour hedges as nest sites.

Photo dominated by the circular shape of the nest woven from grass and twigs on the right two thirds of the image, with 4 pale cyan coloured dappled eggs lying in its centre.
A blackbird’s nest and eggs in the hedge. Photograph by Florin Feneru

And when not nesting, foraging or roosting our garden birds are singing loudly from their tree song posts, so loudly in fact that a visitor last week asked where the loud speakers were located.

Apart from hawthorn, field maple, hazel and holly, the mix of shrubs and climbers throughout the garden’s hedges include blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), guelder-rose, dog rose (Rosa canina), sweet briar (Rosa rubiginosa), crab apple (Malus sylvestris), spindle (Euonymus europaeus), wild privet (Ligustrum vulgare), elder (Sambucus nigra), honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), hops (Humulus lupulus), traveller’s-joy (Clematis vitalba) and bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.)

Photo dominated by tens of the small white flowers of the hawthorn, with the green foliage visible behind.
Hawthorn now in bloom – an important source of nectar for pollinating insects
Photo dominated by the green of tens of leaves of hop and other foliage
Hop, one of the larval food plants of comma butterfly, growing amongst wild privet and hawthorn

Together, hedgerow species also provide foliage and food for a range of invertebrates and their larvae – the evidence is all around us! Here are some of the species seen in the past week:

Later in the year damselflies and dragonflies may be seen patrolling the length of hedges hunting their prey of midges and other small flies. We spotted our first red damselfly of the year on the 11 April – over two weeks earlier than 2016.

Close up photo of the damselfly at rest, lying from right to left across the image. It's red and black banded abdomen dominates the photo.
Large red damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) resting on field maple leaf. © Frances Dismore

Returning to our hedge banks, several first flowers have appeared since the weekend including bugle (Ajuga reptans), wood sedge (Carex sylvatica) and wood avens (Geum urbanum), all shade-loving woodland plants

Photo showing the plant in the centre of the image, stretching from top to bottom. The yellow column of the flowers is dominant. Blades of green grass are visible in the rest of the image.
Yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon) on a hedge bank. It first flowered this year on 10 April

In a few weeks time, south-facing hedge banks will include meadow plants such as meadow buttercup (Ranunculus acris) and red clover (Trifolium pratense). Come and see for yourself. The Wildlife Garden is open daily.

Photo with a brick path in shadow stretching up the centre of the image, with trees and hedgerow on each side.
Hedge-lined lane in the garden


3 Replies to “Hedgerow spring in the Wildlife Garden | UK Wildlife”

  1. Hi Caroline – great to see some evidence of Spring. Keep up the good work.

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