National Hedgerow Week runs from 1 to 8 September, so ahead of the event which is now a national fixture on the calendar we wanted to provide you with some facts and information on hedgerows and some of the good things that they do, as well as some important dates.
In 2019, it was estimated by Teagasc that there are about 689,000km of hedgerows in the Republic of Ireland, taking up about 4% of the national land area.
This equates to about 186,000ha using an average width.
These hedgerows, of course, provide a habitat for many different species of wildlife from birds and mice to insects and larger animals such as hares and foxes.
Hedgerows provide food in the form of berries and flowers for pollinators.
They provide shelter from the weather and a place to nest. The linear layout of hedgerows in Ireland also provides a corridor for animals to travel on. Birds often even fly over the top of hedgerows and follow the hedgerow route.
Hedgerows are very good at storing carbon. The plants take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store the carbon in their branches and stems. Soil under hedgerows also tends to be high in carbon as the leaves fall down onto the soil underneath the hedgerow.
Research by Teagasc released in February places the average carbon stock of the above ground biomass of the hedgerow at about 58 tonnes of carbon per hectare.
This research stated that new hedgerows offer the best carbon sequestration potential. However, allowing other hedgerows to grow out 1m and upwards increases carbon sequestration by about one to two tonnes of carbon per hectare per year.
Hedgerows can be planted strategically to prevent nutrient loss to water.
Farmers who know areas in a field where water or soil flows into a watercourse or who have their fields mapped to find the sources of pollution to waterways could plant a hedgerow at the point where nutrients get into the water.
The hedge would then create a barrier between the soil and the watercourse and stop phosphorus loss, for example, which happens when soil flows into a watercourse.
Hedgerows can provide shelter for wildlife on farms, but can also provide shelter for the farm animals.
A thick and dense hedge can keep wind and rain off animals as well as fencing them into the field.
Whitethorn and holly are two very good plants to grow for stockproofing
If hedgerows are to be stockproof then they need to be managed well. They should be clipped at planting to allow plenty of branches to grow out from the base of the hedge and then clipped again each year, so that the hedge gradually grows up and is full of branches as it grows. Whitethorn and holly are two very good plants to grow for stockproofing.
However, the hedge will need to be fenced when it is planted or animals could trample on it and damage it.
Remember, bird nesting season runs from 1 March to 31 August. Hedgerows cannot be cut during this time and it is best to leave hedgerows uncut for as long as possible to provide berries and food for wildlife over winter.
It is a big help to wildlife if you don’t cut your hedgerows every year or if you keep a mix of managed and escaped hedgerows on your farm.
Parcels being used under ACRES for things like growing catch crops or extensively grazed pasture need to allow hedgerows to grow to a height of 1.8m tall.
Farmers may also have chosen to plant a new hedgerow under ACRES or coppice a hedgerow and should consult with their adviser before beginning these actions to make sure that they meet the requirements.
Winter time is a good time to plant hedges. Plants will be available after the first frost and can be planted right up to St Patrick’s Day. Remember to keep to native species like whitethorn, blackthorn, holly, oak, ash, gueldar rose and spindle.
Plant about five whitethorn and then one other species every metre for a hedge on a farm which needs to provide shelter and stockproofing.
Teagasc recommends planting two rows of plants side by side, but staggered.
So, there are three plants in one row and three plants in the other row and the plants are staggered so that they do not face each other. The plants should be planted one foot apart (Figure 1). If the hedge is to be managed, then clip the young plant each year to make sure it thickens out.
National Hedgerow Week runs from 1 to 8 September and it is a partnership between Teagasc and The Heritage Council. Events will run across the week online and in person. Check out the Teagasc website for more. Farm walks and machinery demonstrations are being held across the week at different Teagasc farms.
The first is being held at Teagasc, Kildalton Agricultural College, Piltown, Co Kilkenny, at 11am on Friday 1 September. See more on hedgerows in the Footprint Farmers article here.