In this news article on www.thatsfarming.com, Phelim Connolly, CAFRE Agri-Environment Adviser, College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), explains why farmers should give hedgerows a chance to feed nature.
It is clear to see the many positive impacts farm management practices can have on the environment around us.
Northern Ireland’s farmers manage thousands of kilometres of hedgerows.
This year, there has been a spectacular abundance of hawthorn and blackthorn blossoms adding vibrant white and pink colours to the countryside around us for everyone to appreciate.
These thorn blossoms provide an important source of pollen and nectar for our native bee populations.
Pollen and nectar will provide the bees with enough protein and carbohydrates to survive and reproduce. These bees will, in turn, repay good hedgerow management many times over when pollinating many of our food crops, apple trees, soft fruits and also our wildflowers and trees.
However, it does not stop there, as these blossoms will develop into berries and, in turn, sustain our farmland birds over the winter months.
Many farmers have been doing good work in recent years, successfully creating new habitats with the support of agri-environment schemes.
However, there is so much within the farm gate already that farmers can do to improve the environment around us.
Making small, simple changes to hedgerow management can have very positive environmental benefits at no cost to the farmer.
By allowing our field hedges to develop and grow, we can provide more sources of food for pollinators and farmland birds.
Hedgerows that are cut annually will not develop a hawthorn blossom; however, if we cut 1 in 3 years, these hedgerows will develop more fruit and support more biodiversity.
These hedgerows will also support more nesting birds, sequester more carbon in the fight against climate change and save on fuel and contractor costs in the process.
When deciding on the timing of hedge trimming, if farmers wait until later in the winter to cut, then farmland birds will have an opportunity to feed off the berries sustaining them through the hardest part of the winter.
Farmers can also choose to cut hedges in rotation, for example, only cutting one-third of the hedges on-farm at any time.
When hedges are cut, there is still a food source available for bees and farmland birds in the remaining uncut hedges.
Many farmers will not think about cutting hedges until September, when the bird nesting season is finished.
However, now is a good time to take stock of when cutting should take place, which hedges are likely to produce an abundance of fruit, or think about which hedges may be allowed to grow further to provide important sources of pollen and nectar, berries and nesting sites in future years.
Under DAERA cross-compliance rules hedge, tree or scrub cutting is not permitted during the nesting season between March 1st and August 31st.
If you own or occupy land next to a public road or footway, you are responsible for maintaining hedges and trees to ensure that they do not obstruct the movement of vehicles and pedestrians or block the view of drivers.
Traffic signs must not be obstructed, nor the safety or convenience of road users affected.
If management is necessary, farmers can still consider allowing single hawthorn trees to establish every 20 metres within the hedgerow.
The ‘field’ side of the hedge should not be cut, and you should ensure you have clear evidence for the health and safety need for management.