Role of the Urban Hedgerow

Written by Mark McDowell

The planting of a new hedge in an urban environment is an event, it gets witnessed by thousands of people, many of them young children, and the progress and development of the children is mirrored in the growth and development of the hedge, they will always remember that hedge, their hedge, and how they were there at its beginning and feel a sense of pride and ownership. 

It makes real sense to do this type of planting with the assistance of community groups, maximising appreciation of the hedge and local investment.

A hedge anywhere gives so much but especially in an urban area. A walk beside a wall or a fence is completely transformed when the boundary is masked or rather enhanced by a hedge. Without it one walks along a cold-imposing, hostile entity that says nothing but “keep out”, the hedge blurs the chilly elemental border and brings it to life while actually strengthening the security of the boundary. Native species hedges should be included wherever possible in urban settings.                                                                                    

In a busy urban setting a hedge marks the passage of time so benignly. In Spring the first leaves in April let us know that the temperatures are improving even if nothing else is. A closer inspection at this time will reveal, among others, the Hawthorn shield bugs emerging from hibernation, a beautiful creature, letting us know that the hedge is a thriving place that has its own residents who still live in a world from which we have almost divorced ourselves. These new leaves so soft and emerald-bright in the sunlight are also good to eat.                                                                                                        

Then comes the riot of the Mayflowers, what can you say? They lean over us, inviting us to touch and smell them, even to wear them. They make old and young laugh and smile and let us see the myriad of insects getting nectar and pollen and forcing us to talk to each other, to comment and smile on the sheer magnificence of the thing.                              

The flowers fade and the success of their endeavours becomes clear as the branches once again begin to droop, not with blossom this time but with fruit, the wonderful haws, bright green for summer but promising a scarlet autumn.                                                

The swallows and swifts and martins also arrive with the flowers and the hectic insect activity, not by chance or coincidence but as another element of the natural inter-continental, indeed global, harmonies that occur all around us, even as we sit staring out of cars or from buses heading for offices, transporting us between worlds.                            

All this while caterpillars and spiders and insects living in and beneath the hedge are providing food for the blue tits and robins and wrens, dunnocks and sparrows and finches, warblers, starlings and others that will certainly be attracted to the hedge and hopefully will nest there as well.                                                                                                         

Come winter, harsh or mild, the haws provide food for many birds. I love the flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares, Waxwings and others which will come from frozen mainland Europe and find our brimming hedge to welcome and sustain them alongside our many resident species. Once more the enjoyment of the rhythms of the natural world compels strangers walking and observing the wall of life that is the hedge to talk to each other, more boundaries removed, united by the bounty of the hedge.                                       

The quality of life provided to an urban area by something so seemingly commonplace as a hawthorn hedge is an extraordinary thing and its impact should never be underestimated in otherwise often bleak lives.                                                                                       

Native hedgerows should be incorporated in infrastructure projects whenever possible, whether by retaining existing ones or establishing new ones or both. Their benefits are entirely positive and they should be cherished, promoted and treated as assets, attractions and treasures, their care and management used as opportunities for education and for building community. Hedgerows are a benevolent ecological system often overlooked and frequently misunderstood especially in the planning process but their time has surely come, besides all their environmental benefits, in an urban setting they are natural providers of well-being.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *