A man-made and often undervalued habitat, well managed hedgerows are rich wildlife habitats. In this part of Cumbria most of the hedges were planted during the early years of the 19th century, during the ‘Commons Enclosure’ period. They were planted on dykes or hedge banks to avoid waterlogging of the roots.
At over 200 years old, many are no longer optimal areas for attracting wildlife. At Watchtree Nature Reserve however, over 6km of hedgerows have been planted since 2002 with the specific intention of attracting wildlife and restoring most if not more of the ‘Watchtree Farm ‘ hedges removed to create the airfield in 1943.
The hedgerows at Watchtree consist mainly of Hawthorn interspersed with Blackthorn, Dog Rose, and Holly. As they mature, they will act as “wildlife corridors”, linking different habitats, and will become a complex ecosystem in their own right. Many small mammals and birds covet the cover that hedgerows provide, particularly in areas of low woodland cover. The hedgerows are fenced to leave wide, rough grass margins to enhance the wildlife corridor. We commenced rotational hedge laying in 2014, in order to ensure healthy hedge rejuvenation by promoting new, thicker growth to enhance their wildlife value. Some hedges will be allowed to grow tall and dense to produce large quantities of berries, providing autumn food for visiting Fieldfares, Redwings, and Blackbirds. Hedgerows generally have been in decline in this country for some time especially in the east of the country where many miles have been removed. In recent years Agricultural Environment Schemes have encouraged a significant improvement in hedgerow restorative management.