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Cornish hedge biodiversity

Cornish hedges are important for wildlife

Some Cornish hedges have origins in the Bronze Age. Original species from that time still survive in Cornish hedges today.The abundance of plant species found is related to our warm winters and summers without many droughts. A well-maintained Cornish hedge can often resemble a vertical flower-meadow. A field margin, ditch, stream or pool is also often present at the hedge base.  This creates another habitat opportunity for wildlife and plants. Scrub and trees may also establish on the top and at the base. The combination of all of these habitats together is of great ecological value.

Cornish hedges are the result of the combined effects of climate, stone, height and salty sea winds. Salt-burn extends inland from each coast as far as the hill tops in the middle of Cornwall. This causes the lop-sided windblown appearance and reduced height of exposed trees, and encourages maritime plants. Across Cornwall our hedges include the features of flower-meadows, woodlands, scrub and wood margins, heathland, wetland, rocky outcrops and sea cliffs. These versatile wildlife refuges need to be traditionally cared for, so that they continue to thrive.Cornish hedge plants that include elements of the original woodland include dog's mercury, wood sorrel and bluebells. Also you can find original heathland plants such as gorse, heather and tormentil. There are more than 500 native plant species living in a diverse range of hedge habitats. 

Why is an individual hedge so valuable?

An individual hedge is valuable because it provides many differing habitats and microhabitats. 

It is a sanctuary for species within a landscape which has been converted to intensive arable and silage fields, or urban development.

Cornish hedges are important collectively

Cornish hedges include a

  • wide range of altitudes
  • shelter
  • maritime exposure
  • geological composition 

They have a long and continuous history. Often they are species-linked with the original pre-farming landscape. 

They provide an interconnected network of refuges which link to other habitats.

Hedge Biodiversity Plans

A Cornish hedge can provide rare and rich habitats, many of which have declined elsewhere in the landscape. Their great age results in many species being linked to pre-farming times. 

Before 2011 the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) emphasized the importance of managing our hedgerows properly. Hedgelink was established as the steering group for the delivery of the hedgerow management goals. It contains pages on the importance of hedgerows and their wildlife, research and surveys, legislation and hedgerows management.

Priority Habitats and Species are now listed in the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework (which replaces the UK Biodiversity Action Plan). In England and Wales, hedgerows are recognised as Habitats of Principal Importance for the conservation of biodiversity under Section 41 (England) of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act (2006).

The UK BAP identified hedgerows as a priority habitat. This was reflected within the national Hedgerow Habitat Plan and Cornwall’s Biodiversity Action Plan. Cornwall’s BAP focuses on the management of ancient and/or species-rich hedgerows. Ancient hedges are defined as forming the boundary of anciently enclosed land (of medieval or prehistoric origin).

Further information

Cornish hedges are protected by law. It is against the law to remove most countryside hedgerows without permission from the council and if you do so you could be fined up to £5,000. Please see the Hedges and the Law page. 

More detailed information about the management of Cornish Field Hedges can be found on the Field Hedge Management page.

Why not head outside and see what you can find exploring Cornish hedges.

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