Value of Hedgerows
Hedgerows have many values and functions
They can be multi-functional. A diversity of hedgerow types and management on a farm is ideal. The functions of hedgerows include the following:
Flooding control – root systems of hedgerows regulate water movement and help prevent flooding
Disease control – hedgerows help prevent the spread of airborne disease
Water quality – hedgerows trap silt and soil particles, which clog up fish spawning grounds if they enter watercourses
Cultural / Historical – hedgerows are part of Ireland’s cultural, historical and archaelogical heritage. Townland boundary hedgerows are particularly important
Wildlife - as the area of native woodlands in Ireland is small, hedgerows have become very important wildlife habitats in the Irish countryside
Landscape – hedgerows give character and a sense of place to a particular landscape. They give an identity to a townland or county, making it distinct from other areas
Shelter - hedgerows provide protection for livestock and crops for up to thirty times their height, a dense base is also more effective
Stock enclosure – hedgerows provide long term cost effective stockproof barriers, if well managed. (More height is required here for bird nesting)
Screening can be provided by native species such as whitethorn
Scenic appearance - Characteristic Irish hedgerow, enhancing the countryside
Hedgerow as a Wildlife Habitat
As a wildlife habitat, hedgerows provide food, shelter, corridors of movement, nest and hibernation sites for many of our native flora and fauna:
Hedgerow trees – Mature trees provide roosts for bats, while saplings just above the height of the hedgerow are important perching posts for birds
Birds – Of the 110 species regularly recorded in the Countryside Bird Survey in Ireland during the breeding season, 55 use hedgerows. Of these, 35 nest in hedgerows over 1.4 m high and 1.2 m wide, which provide cover from overhead and ground predators.
Cover – Hedgerows with a dense base provide cover for small birds and mammals, such as the hedgehog. The barn owl hunts along hedgerows for prey such as the field mouse
Places for Plants – Hedgerows provide places for many native flora, such as the primrose. Flora in turn provides food sources, such as blackberries on the bramble
The network of hedgerows allows wildlife to move through the countryside. Birds, bats and butterflies travel along hedgerows, rather than cross open fields.
Most Irish hedgerows were planted during the 1700’s and 1800’s. Acts of Parliament were passed in 1697 and 1721, making it obligatory for landowners to erect proper permanent boundaries between their properties. The boundaries were ‘ditches of six feet wide and five feet deep, quicked with whitethorn, crab or other quick-sets’. Where these would not grow, furz was recommended. Other options included a ditch with a dry stone wall or mud wall and in wet ground the banks whereof to be planted with sallows, alder and others. Hedgerows along townland boundaries often date from medieval times or earlier. Older hedgerows are richer in plant and animal species. They are also of historical and cultural value. Ancient Gaelic bank-and-ditch (clas) originate from as early as the Neolithic and Bronze Ages (c.3500 – 700 BC).