Image: WelshDave, Wikimedia Commons
Hedgerows are as British as fish and chips. Without these walls of woody plants cross-stitching the countryside into a harmonious quilt of pastures and crop fields, the landscape wouldn’t be the same. Over the centuries, numerous hedges were planted to keep in grazing livestock, and some of today’s are as historic as many old churches, dating back as far as 800 years. Today, Britain boasts about 700,000 kilometers (435,000 miles) of them, a length that surpasses that of its roads.
In recent years, ecologists — especially in Britain, Ireland and continental Europe, but also in places that have more recently adopted hedgerows, such as California — have come to view these man-made structures as important ecosystems in their own right. They form a vital reservoir of biodiversity in human-dominated landscapes where many species might otherwise struggle to survive. By nurturing pollinating insects, they can enhance the yield of crops. And they do it all while pulling carbon out of the atmosphere.
This growing ecological appreciation is invigorating efforts in many regions to expand hedgerows, or hedges, and so help combat both the biodiversity and climate crises. More hedgerows, ecologists and policymakers hope, could provide a mutually beneficial way for farming to coexist with nature.
“Most people just drive or walk past hedgerows and maybe don’t think about them very much,” says Jo Staley, an ecologist at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, a nonprofit research institute. “But when you start to learn a bit about them, you see the potential.”
Read the whole story at Knowable Magazine