Hedge planting at Chartwell

Hawthorn blossom

Since the winter of 2019/20 the ranger team have been working with our tenant farmer at Grange Farm to restore several old field boundaries back to their former glory. They have planted over 1000 different native species to make sure that the hedgerows we build are perfectly suited to their environment, and that they are as beneficial as possible to the surrounding wildlife.

Why are we planting new hedges?

In the post-war era, a vast number of hedges were removed from farmland due to inappropriate government-led farming policies. The aim was to create larger fields in which to sow increasing amounts of high yield crops, which could then be harvested by bigger and better farming machinery.

This unfortunately led to a catastrophic decline in farmland wildlife; a problem which is now, ironically, being reversed by government-funded hedge re-planting schemes.

We have been selectively and sensitively reducing tree canopy cover over several drainage ditches and with the agreement of our tenant farmer, we are taking the opportunity to replant some hedge boundaries.

Neglected field boundary hedge before the start of our project
Neglected field boundary hedge at Grange Farm
Neglected field boundary hedge before the start of our project
Making progress with the boundary restoration
Neglected field boundary hedge mid-project
Making progress with the boundary restoration

Wildlife benefits

Hedges are a crucial source of protection, shelter and food for a range of wildlife. Their presence and interconnection across the landscape acts as a sort of wildlife superhighway, allowing for various species to move around freely whilst keeping safe from predators.

The hedges also offer nesting, breeding and foraging habitat. We would expect to see an increase in a range of species of birds, mammals and invertebrates in the area once the hedges are fully established.

In order to maximise the benefit to wildlife, we are making sure to plant a variety of hedge species. This will not only guarantee a range of flowering times for pollenating insects, different food sources for birds and mammals, but will offer a visually appealing hedge for us as well.

Sloes on Blackthorn
Sloes on Blackthorn
Sloes on Blackthorn

Native species

When planting hedges, it is important not to plant just for plantings sake. The species selected must be native to the area and able to grow in the specific soil type. As such, they should be found locally and certainly sourced from local sources, in order that they are well-accustomed to the local micro-climates. Hedge species planted in the Peak District or the Lake District may not always be appropriate in the South East, for instance.

Our area ranger has a bias towards Hawthorn and Blackthorn and tends to plant a slightly higher percentage of these two species when working on hedge planting. They are quite tolerant and have a reasonably good survival rate but more importantly, they flower quite early in the year and at different times, so provide a rich and valuable nectar and berry sources for insects and birds.

It is the norm in native English hedge planting to plant a mix of species, particularly in rural areas to keep the overall hedge stock-proof, to help wildlife flourish, and to be aesthetically pleasing. Most native species used in hedges can also be planted as trees or shrubs in gardens and woodland, too.

Field Maple
Field Maple
Field Maple

Our particular mix is as follows:

60% Common Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna – the highest percentage in our mix, Hawthorn is often the backbone of the hedge as it forms a good, stable structure that also provides flowers in spring and berries in the autumn.

10% Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa – another prickly plant – an important feature in making hedges stock-proof – with white flowers and blue-black berries. These are the ‘Sloes’ that can be used to make Sloe Gin.

5% Field Maple, Acer Campestre – a species that knits a hedge together well and has a lovely yellow, autumn colour.

5% Hazel, Corylus avellane a fast growing plant which provides nuts in autumn and catkins later in the winter.

5% Crab Apple, Malus Sylvestris – deciduous with showy flower in spring, and ornamental or edible fruit in the autumn.

5% Spindle, Euonymus europaeus – able to tolerate very chalky soil, this plant has gorgeous bright pink and orange seeds.

5% Wayfaring Tree, Viburnum lantana – these offer fragrant pink flowers, followed later in the season by red or black berries.

5% Guelder Rose, Viburnum opulus – a shrub that copes well with wet soils, has bright red berries and good autumn colour.

All our young plants will be protected from rabbits and deer to avoid irreparable damage and to enable good establishment.