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Planting a native hedgerow

Here at Hedge and Habitat we would love to see more hedging planted.  The native hedgerow is a complete eco-system by itself, providing shelter for small mammals, dense nesting habitat for birds, and a source of berries and nuts in the autumn. 















One of the huge advantages of hedging is that you don’t need too much space for a hedgerow - even if don’t have large garden, hedging can be used as a boundary. In our opinion hedging is a more attractive divide than a fence or brick wall. It is therefore rather depressing to see new housing developments covered in miles of panel fencing when hedging represents a more economical and wildlife-friendly option.


The winter months are the perfect time of year to plant new hedging. ‘Bare root’ hedging plants are the traditional and cheapest way to plant a native hedgerow. Here at Hedge and Habitat we sell a fantastic range of inexpensive native bare root hedging plants. Because the hedging plants are 'bare root', they are delivered to you when they are dormant, typically during the winter period between November and mid-March. However we are happy to accept orders throughout the year.


How to plant a hedgerow

1. Spacing

Spacing between the bare root hedge whips is a matter of personal preference, depending upon the number of whips and the required hedgerow length. We recommend as a rough guide 3-4 saplings whips per 1 metre.

2. Planting

Bare root whips can either be planted in a compost filled trench, or planted in a spade-depth slit and firmly ‘heeled in’. They should be well-watered in.











3. Mulching

We recommend adding mulch to the area around the newly planted hedge saplings to retain moisture and prevent the ground from drying out, but also to prevent weeds from establishing. Sources of mulch can include chopped bark, cardboard, black plastic sheeting, and weed free compost.

4. Initial Cut

Once all the whips have been planted and mulched we recommend cutting each sapling in half, or at least by a third. This may seem incredible drastic, but it will help each hedge sapling to produce vigorous and bushier growth from the cut, and enable quicker establishment of a dense, wildlife friendly hedge.













5. Looking after your hedge

Once established, hedgerows are tolerant of quite intensive trimming, and can even be coppiced (cut right across just above ground level). We believe hedgerows are best pruned in January which allows wildlife the opportunity to utilise berries and nuts throughout the autumn-to-winter period, and before new hedgerow growth in spring.

The most traditional way to trim a hedgerow is to ‘lay’ the hedgerow. This method of hedgerow management was originally used to stock-proof the field boundary, but also looks very attractive in the garden setting. It is also an extremely wildlife-friendly form of hedgerow management as it creates excellent nesting habitat. Certain areas of the country have distinctive styles of hedge laying. The National Hedge Laying Society provides more information on hedge laying, including details of hedge layers in your area.

 

What's your favourite type of tree?

What is your favourite type of tree? We often get asked this question here at Hedge and Habitat. Whilst we never like to answer because all native trees that we sell have their own unique qualities, there is one tree that is head and shoulders above the rest – the native bird cherry.

Bird cherry really is one of the most spectacular native trees comparable to any exotic tree from the Far East or the Caribbean. It produces a stunning display of white blossom which appears in April and May. The blossom forms in ‘racemes’ or pendants of up to forty, white, five-petalled flowers, which are self fertile. The flowers open in sequence from base of the raceme to tip, which can continue to form new buds. The flowers attract many pollinating bees and flies.

In our opinion the best feature of bird cherry is one that we can only describe rather than illustrate - the spring blossom provides an incredibly aromatic scent of almond which readily perfume the air in sheltered sunny locations. In fact the beautiful reddish brown and peeling bark also provides a hint of almonds, although this is more subtle that the flowers.

The fruit of the bird cherry consists of small shiny black cherries which ripen in late summer. Although not suitable for human consumption, the fruit is loved by birds, and especially blackbirds, but also fieldfares and redwings. The fruit is smaller than those of the wild cherry and can therefore be swallowed by smaller birds such as robins.

Bird cherry doesn’t disappoint in late autumn. Its elliptical leaves often turn gold and red before falling in October. Prior to autumn the leaves of bird cherry casts only a light shade, thereby allowing other allows plants to grow underneath.

Bird cherry is really easy to grow. It will thrive in most soil types, and can be located in both full sun or semi-shaded conditions. If left uncut it can grow up to 8 metres in height, but is typically much smaller in size, making it is a superb garden-worthy tree. We have some beautiful bird cherries in stock now.

Dead Hedging

Whilst we have been busy trying to promote the planting of native hedging this winter through our ‘make hedges not fences’ campaign, not all hedging necessarily needs to be living. ‘Dead hedging’ is basically cut branches, stems and coppiced material that is laid horizontally to form a barrier.

Dead hedging has lots of benefits:

- it provides a great habitat for wildlife, and will be home to a wide range of invertebrates, amphibians and small mammals, as well as a perching spot for small birds.;

- dead hedging enables the ‘reuse’ of natural garden materials and waste, preventing the need to transport garden waste to the local municipal tip. Furthermore, material in the dead hedge will slowly rot down, meaning that garden waste can continue to be added to it; 

- it’s cheap. In fact other than the time spent to construct, dead hedging doesn’t cost anything at all, and is therefore cheaper than any form of hedge, wall, or fence; 

- dead hedging creates a very effective and impenetrable barrier to ensure additional security, especially if plant species with thorns – such as hawthorn, blackthorn and rose – are used; and

- in our view, dead hedging looks great, and can be quite colourful dependent upon the plant species used. We've used a red dogwood to our dead hedge - see photo below.

It’s really easy to create a stretch of dead hedging. Whilst there are variations, the most basic approach is to create two parallel lines of vertically driven stakes – and then to fill the space between these two lines with horizontally placed cut material. If possible the positioning of the vertical stakes should be staggered between the two parallel lines. It also looks good if all the cut material is placed in the same direction.

Other than these basic principles, the creation of dead hedging can be undertaken in a very creative manner. The width and height of the dead hedge can be varied massively dependent upon the amount of cut material to hand. The dead hedge doesn’t have to be a straight line, it could be used to delineate a curved footpath, or a short four sided affair (with the addition of a roof) could create a ‘hide’ or small animal shelter. 


Coppicing Hazel

At Hedge and Habitat we have long promoted ‘growing for wildlife’ in order to encourage backgarden nature reserves. In particular we have been keen to stress that giving wildlife life a helping hand does necessarily mean buying ‘lifestyle magazine stuff’ such as the latest porcelain frog hotel or garish hedgehog feeder (who is feeding the hedgehogs in the woods!?). Sometimes, the biggest contribution that can be made to help wildlife in the back garden is doing things differently...letting the lawn flower in the summer months, leaving nettles to grow behind the shed, or starting a compost heap. None of these need cost a thing.

 

To this end, we have decided to manage our hazel trees by coppicing them. Coppicing trees – cutting down to ground level - has been traditionally practiced for centuries as a reliable method of harvesting wood. In the years following coppicing, the remaining tree stumps will send up a mass of shoots which can then be coppiced and harvested themselves within 7-10 years. The vast majority of woodlands in this country have been managed in this way, through the coppicing of different areas of woodland each year.

 

Crucially, coppicing is great for wildlife. The different stages of regrowth in the years following coppicing will produce a variety of habitats – from a more open aspect and (hopefully) spring wildflowers in the first years, to an increasingly dense thicket suitable for nesting birds and small mammals in later years.

 

You don’t necessarily need a vast woodland to practice coppicing. It is an entirely suitable practice to undertake on a variety of individual back garden trees, including hazel, elder, hornbeam, oak, and lime. Hedges can also be coppiced. Coppicing will also increase the lifespan of these trees, and ensure that they stay at a ‘garden-friendly’ size.

 

Whilst we don’t exactly have a woodland at Hedge and Habitat HQ we do have a number of hazel trees first planted 8 years ago that we have now coppiced. We have left some other hazel trees to coppice in subsequent years.

 

 

 

One of our hazel trees prior to coppicing. Typical to hazel, it already has a sprawling, multi-stemmed form.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using a hand-saw, the hazel was coppiced down to approximately 20cm above ground level. There is evidence to suggest that regrowth is greater if it is cut at this level rather than ground level.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cut hazel poles will be put to a variety of uses around the garden, including stakes for hedging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make hedges not fences

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This winter Hedge and Habitat is campaigning to encourage the planting of native hedging in gardens to provide essential habitat for wildlife.

 

With approximately 15 million gardens in the United Kingdom covering an estimated 270,000 hectares - more than all National Nature Reserves put together – it is clear that domestic gardens have a huge role to play in catering for wildlife. Wildlife such as the house sparrow is in huge decline as we pave, deck, build and trampoline over ever decreasing sizes of garden. We want to reverse that trend.

 

The native hedgerow is great for wildlife and is a complete eco-system by itself. It can provide shelter for small mammals, dense nesting habitat for birds, and a bounty of berries and nuts in the autumn.

 

With beautiful spring blossom and autumnal colours later in the year, hedgerows form an attractive natural boundary better looking than any fence. Bare root hedging plants- planted during the winter months - are the traditional and cheapest way to plant a native hedgerow.

 

Just think of the difference it could make if even if a small proportion of fences were hedges instead?

 

Now is the perfect time to buy bare root hedging and get planting for wildlife!

 

 

 

Foraging for wild fruit

Whilst one of Hedge and Habitats’ main aims is to encourage the planting of trees, shrubs and wildflowers to benefit wildlife, these same plants will also provide a range of benefits for us humans! In particular, at this time of year, many trees are beginning to develop their fruit, which can be used for a wide range of delicious culinary uses.

You do not have to limit fruit-picking to your own back garden – plenty of hedgerows, parks, greens, edge of playing fields in both rural and urban locations etc contain attractive fruiting trees and shrubs. We are all familiar with the picking of blackberries, but there is a lot more besides to attract the forager. Beyond native fruit such as rowan berries, hazel nuts and crab apple, many of our fruiting trees are naturalised garden or orchard escapees, often spread by bird droppings. For example, there are stretches of hedgerow along the M1 motorway in Hertfordshire literally covered in fruiting apple trees (please note: we are not for a second advocating that people get out of their cars and pick these!).

We recently spent an hour or so looking for wild fruit on a local lane alongside a sand quarry. Of most interest were two ‘wild’ plum trees. There are huge variations, hybrids, and sub-species within the wild plum family. The first tree offered smallish oval deep-purple damson-like fruits. Our second spot was a wild plum tree containing larger more rounded yellow plum fruits. These were sweeter and riper – many had already fallen and were being enjoyed by insects. These plums have already made their way into a delicious fruit sponge cake, and plum jam! This is not only food for free, but local food with very little mileage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



We should add that any foraging should not take place without permission on land that you do not own. At the same time, there is a common law right that you may collect fruit, flowers, fungi and foliage providing it is for personal use only and is growing wild. Care should also be taken that plants and habitats are not damaged through the collection of wild food.

However, we do hope that foraging for wild food from hedgerows isn’t seen as being at odds with conserving for wildlife or that we are somehow reducing the amount of food for wildlife – we strongly believe that the act of foraging is about being outdoors and engaging with our natural surroundings. The more people that do this then the more likelihood there is that people have a passion for conserving our hedgerows and woodlands.

Plant of the month: Rowan

One of the highlights of August are the bright orange to red berries of rowan.  One of the first trees to produce berries in the calendar year, they will attract many birds over late summer and early autumn, including thrushes, bullfinches and fieldfares.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although also known as mountain ash, and often found in quite remote upland locations, rowan is a fantastic tree to plant in the garden.  It’s slender form and fern-like leaves cast only light shade, thereby allowing extensive underplanting.  It doesn't grow too big - reaching a maximum of about 7 metres after twenty years if left uncut. Rowan also produces frothy white clusters of flowers in May, which are very aromatic and also attract a wide range of insect life.

 

In terms of culinary use rowan berries are quite tart and bitter but can be used  to make a rowan jelly (especially if combined with crab apple) which can be eaten with gamey meats.

 

We currently have some beautiful pot grown rowan trees in stock.

Plant of the month: Elder

The local hedgerows have been covered in the creamy coloured sprays of elderflowers for the last few weeks. Their beautifully fragrant flowers are one of the best sights and smells of early summer.

Elder is a valuable shrub to grow for wildlife - the flowers produce nectar that attract pollinating flies and beetles, as well as swallowtail moths. The berries are produced in late summer when few other shrubs are in fruit and are quickly consumed by a diverse range of birds, including blackbirds, song thrushes starling and greenfinches amongst others. We’ve currently got some beautiful elders in stock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



It’s still not too late to pick the flowers for a wide range of culinary uses, including sorbets, ice-creams, jellies, infusions, and jams. The flavour of the flowers is best captured if picked on a warm sunny day, choosing well opened, fresh flower heads. Our favourite use of elderflower sprays is to make refreshing elderflower cordial – so we’ve included the easy recipe below...

 

Elderflower cordial recipe

  • Pick 20 or so elder flowerheads and place in a bowl with the zest of a couple of lemons and an orange, and approximately 1kg of granulated sugar. A heaped teaspoon of tartaric acid can be added if you want the cordial to last longer than a week.
  • Pour over enough boiled water to cover them, and then leave overnight.
  • Strain the liquid through a muslin (or clean drying-up cotton cloth!), and then pour through funnel into clean sterilised bottles.
  • Dilute to taste with still or fizzy water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nest Box Watch update #3

Following on from the nest building in the previous update (see below), it is clear that a number of eggs have been laid and have subsequently hatched in the nest box - the female Blue Tit has been busy taking caterpillars to feed to it's young, who can number up to 10 or 12. Blue Tits typically feed their young a diet of predominantly caterpillars. Interestingly, Blue Tits are also quite fastidious in terms of cleaniness, and always removing droppings from the nest.

As a reminder, this nest box was installed in January in the garden of one of our customers, with the first nestbox update in February on this blog. We are certainly relieved that it has been so readily inhabitated! However, as reported in the previous update, there are worrying signs that the nest box has attracted some interest from woodpeckers, with some damage visible on the underside of the nestbox.

If you are interested in installing your own nestbox, we sell beautiful handcrafted and durable nestboxes, together with an installation guide. Whilst it may be too late for this springs egg laying, they can certainly be installed all year round, and may be used for roosting purposes.

 

Nest Box Watch - update #2

The pair of Blue Tits who showed interest in the nestbox (from our last update below) have been busy nest building within the nest box over the last month.

This has been happening in distinctive stages. A week ago moss was being collected, which is normally used to fill the bottom of a nest hole. Blue Tits also typically use dried grass, dead leaves and wool for this purpose. In the last couple of days, the Blue Tits have been taking feathers into the nest box - a sure sign that the 'nest cup' is being lined in anticipation for egg laying.

Blue Tits usually lay a clutch of 7-12 eggs from mid-April to early May, laid at daily intervals. We are hopeful that this will start soon, despite interest from an inquisitive Great Spotted Woodpecker... 

Plant of the month: Blackthorn

Our plant of the month just has to be blackthorn. It's blossom is one of the real highlights of  early spring, covering hedgerows and woodlands up and down the country with a patchwork of minature ice-white flowers.

Blackthorn is fantastic for wildlife. The flowers produce nectar for bumblebees and early-flying Small Tortoiseshell butterflies. It's leaves are a source of food for the larvae of Black and Brown Hairstreak butterflies, and for a huge range of moth caterpillars. Moreover, it's spiny and dense network of branches offer excellent protective habitat and nesting sites for birds and small mammals.

Blackthorn is a shrub of colour. In addition to the early white blossom of March, and the fresh green leaves of April, blackthorn is covered in a mass of plum-black sloes in September and October. More subtle than this, but just as rewarding, are the reddish-purple stems exposed in the winter months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blackthorn is part of our rural heritage - it grows in abundance in the lanes of our village - and is also an excellent garden worthy shrub. It can be grown as a hedging boundary plant or as a speciman tree. Blackthorn rarely grows beyond 4 metres in height and is quite happy to be vigourously pruned down to required size. It does produce suckers which should be controlled if they appear in an undesired location, but this thicketing ability is what makes it such a good hedging and wildlife-friendly tree.

We sell blackthorn mainly as a bare root hedging whip  (during the winter months only).

Nest Box Watch - update #1

There has been lots of activity around the nestbox since we last posted. Although interest was originally shown by a pair of Great Tits, it has been Blue Tits that have now come to the fore. There has been a pair of Blue Tits investigating the nestbox - generally taking turns - to fly in from nearby bushes, perching on the nestbox entrance hole, and then spending a minute or two inside the box before flying back to the bushes. No sign yet of any nesting material being taken to the box, but we are hopeful that this will happen soon.

The Blue Tit is a very familiar and widespread bird in Britain. Although it is a very common visitor to gardens, it is chiefly a woodland bird, spending much of its time in the tops of trees, and nesting in trees with holes (or imitating nestboxes!). Their lively, acrobatic behaviour is always a joy to watch!

More updates to follow shortly...

Nest Box Watch

To mark the coming of spring and the end of National Nest Box week we have decided to undertake a regular watch of one of our newly installed nest boxes. We hope (!) that it will demonstrate that our nest boxes, when correctly positioned (see blog entry on 28th October 2010) offer an attractive nesting site for garden birds.

The 'nest box watch' is taking place in the backgarden of one of our customers in Godalming, Surrey, who have recently purchased our blue tit nest box. This nest box has a circular 25mm entrance hole suitable for blue, great and coal tits, although it is not uncommon for other garden birds to use. The nest box has been installed approximately 10ft up the trunk of an oak tree.

By the way, this is not a fashionable high-tech nest box camera watch - nothing wrong with them - we just wanted to undertake a less instrusive and more natural observation of any comings and goings.

Update: Within a day of being installed the nest box has already been investigated by a pair of great tits. They both flew to the tree, looked inside the nest box, and then perched in nearby bushes before flying away. 

More updates to follow shortly....

Plant of the month: Hazel

Whilst for some people February is seen as a grey colourless time in the garden, one plant that is at its spectacular colourful best is the hazel. During the early weeks of the year, hazel provides a beautiful golden display of shimmering catkins guaranteed to brighten even the dullest of days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In our view, hazel is one of the most rewarding small trees/bushes you can plant in the garden. It perfectly encapsulates our ethos at Hedge and Habitat in terms of providing both huge value to wildlife, and also productivity and usefulness for you. It is for these reasons that the hazel leaf forms the Hedge and Habitat symbol (in the header above).

 

The multi stemmed structure of hazel is beneficial to wildlife as this often contains an accumulation of leaf litter which provides great habitat for a range of small mammals.  Within woodlands, hazel is synonymous with the increasingly rare dormouse, which tends to build its nest in hazel. If a number of hazels are located close together with hawthorn, bramble and honeysuckle, this will increase chances of providing ideal habitat, food and nest building material for the dormouse, which dislikes travelling across open ground. Hazelnuts are loved by a number of small mammals, including dormice but also wood mice and bank voles (and grey squirrels). Birds such as woodpeckers and nuthatches are known to have developed highly intelligent ways of getting into the hazelnut, by jamming the nut into tree crevices so that they can hammer the nuts more easily.

 

Less well known is that hazel is an important source tree for a range of lichens, some of which are rare.

 

Hazel is beneficial to humans too. It is a traditionally coppiced tree – whereby all stems are cut a few inches above the ground – with the cut poles useful around the garden as stakes or climbing frames for runner beans or for traditional fencing or use in ‘laid’ hedging. Coppicing every five to seven years will help to produce the multi-stemmed structure so valuable to wildlife. It also means that hazel has different cycles of growth and therefore years where surrounding wildflowers are able to grow without being shaded out. Coppicing hazel like this also provides a nice link to our heritage by re-establishing traditional woodland husbandry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However our favourite benefit of hazel is the hazelnuts or cobnuts produced in early autumn. These are delicious eaten fresh from the tree (we prefer to leave fallen nuts for the mice) or can be incorporated into a range of recipes, from simple roasting, to biscuits, crumbles and cakes.

 

We sell beautiful hazel trees 60-100cms in height, in 3 litre pots. Click here  for more information.  

The Sand Quarry in Winter

The current widespread wintry conditions make for an excellent excuse to get outside and watch wildlife, which is often easier to spot and more brazen when the ground is covered in snow. Many of our local lanes and footpaths provide fantastic opportunities to safely observe wildlife within, above, and on the edge of working sand quarries. These surround the Heath and Reach and Leighton Buzzard area and are indicative of the location of greensand. The quarries are an integral part of the local landscape, and together cover a vast area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although places of industry, these quarries make for excellent wildlife habitat, because they provide a variety of habitats ranging from open sand cliffs and terraced grassland, to hedgerow and scrub. The type of habitat is largely dependent upon which parts of the quarries are still active, and the level of vegetative re-growth following quarrying.  Furthermore, because quarries are privately owned areas of land and (also for safety reasons) are fenced to prevent public access, they have become places where wildlife can exist undisturbed.

 

One of the more spectacular visitors to the sand quarries is the buzzard. Traditionally regarded as a bird of western and northern England, they are quite commonly seen gliding high above quarry grassland during the winter months, scanning for small mammals, and in particular rabbits, of which there are an abundance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Another familiar bird of prey and resident of the quarry is the kestrel, which can often be spotted perched on fence posts or exposed tree branches. These beautiful rusty-brown coloured falcons are famous for their hovering style of hunting, but are often harried away by territorial magpies.

 

Although not native, Muntjac deer - an escapee from Woburn Deer Park – can be regularly spotted in and around the sand quarries, alongside other more familiar deer like Roe. Smaller and more ‘dog-like’ than other deer, they are shy and tend to stay hidden in undergrowth until springing away at the last moment upon being disturbed. Muntjac are also renowned for having a low pitched ‘bark’. Another resident prone to making a noise are the foxes, which are comfortably sustained by the mammal population of the quarry. The deathly ‘scream’ of the vixen will be shortly heard during the evening in the New Year.

Nest Box installation

Whilst we believe that planting is the best way to create habitat in the garden, nest boxes have a role to play in providing additional nesting and roosting sites. Moreover, nest boxes can enable you to enjoy your own ‘springwatch’ watching birds produce their young, but can also be installed in locations where there may not be existing tree habitat.

 

Autumn is an excellent time of year to put up a nest box. Not only will it be a useful roosting site for birds during bad winter weather, but it will give birds a chance to become accustomed to the presence of a box prior to the breeding season in spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have a fabulous new range of nest boxes for sale – open fronted nest boxes that are suitable for robins and pied wagtails; and nest boxes with small entrance hole for blue tits, coal tits and marsh tits.

 

There are a few things that can be done when installing next boxes to increase the likelihood of them being used:

·         the site should be as sheltered as possible, preferably facing between south east and north to avoid strongest sunshine and heaviest rain (though this may vary dependent upon local climatic conditions);

·         the box should be located at a high enough level to be clear of prowling cats or human interference;

·         predators can be further deterred by placing the nest box in a thorny shrub (like hawthorn or blackthorn);

·         nest boxes should not be positioned close to any bird feeding tables;

·         birds like blue tits are very territorial – therefore you should not locate blue tit boxes close to one another;

·         nest boxes can be cleaned in October – November, with the removal of any old nesting material and the use of boiling water to clean any parasites. No cleaning liquids or products should be used.

 

 

Berries for birds

September is a wonderful time of plenty in the hedgerows and woodlands with a wide range of plants providing an array of colourful berries. Having a variety of native hedging trees also illustrates the succession of berry production. Particular highlights include the orange-red berries of rowan first produced in late summer, through to the vibrant translucent red berries of guelder rose of early autumn, the shiny black sprays of elderberries, the widespread haws of hawthorn which can last through to winter, and late autumn blackthorn purple-black sloes.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All these berry producing trees (including our popular 'berries for bird' tree collection) are available to buy from Hedge and Habitat either as pot grown trees or as bare root hedging . Together the berries they produce can attract a multitude of birds including blackbirds, robins, thrushes, fieldfares, and bullfinches. The amount of bird activity that these berries attract illustrates the value of planting hedging for wildlife, but also encapsulates our ethos of naturally providing food (and nesting/roosting sites!) for birds at the time of year when they are naturally available, rather than hanging out a bird feeder and leaving it to rust!

 

Bats

Anyone who has sat outside on a warm summer's evening and observed the spectacular aerial prowess of bats will appreciate just how fascinating these flying mammals really are. There are thought to be 17 species of bat in Britain. Although bats like the pipistrelle are still common place, bats in general have declined in recent years, and many species are now much less common than they were.  The Grey long-eared bat and Bechstein's bat are very rare, whilst the Greater mouse-eared bat is now thought to be more or less extinct in Britain. Bats are possibly the most endangered animals in Britain, and are protected by law.  There is much that can be done to help bats, both within the garden, and around buildings. All British bats eat insects and need a continuous supply during the summer, as well as a wide range of places to roost and shelter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To encourage insects into the garden, wildflower meadows are excellent. Not only do the flowers themselves attract insects, but areas of unmown grass will attract insect larvae (see our wildflower meadow habitat box). Within the cottage garden, night-scented flowers are particularly useful - including plants such as evening primrose, night-scented stocks, or scented herbs such as lemon balm and mint.

 

As many types of insect start life in freshwater, a pond can also provide a major source of food for bats. In fact the Daubentons bat is often called the 'water bat' due to its tendency to skim low over a pond to pick up insects such as mayflies as they emerge from the water. Ponds will also prove to be a haven for a vast array of other types of wildlife.

 

The diversity of a 'woodland edge' were space and light combines with the shelter of tree and shrub growth will create an insect rich space, attractive to bats. Native trees such as silver birch, guelder rose and hazel are host to numerous types of insect. Before planting trees or shrubs, consideration should be given to what grows beyond your garden. There is evidence to suggest that many species of bat use hedges and other corridors of vegetation along which to travel. There may be opportunity to link up a hedge or other vegetation from surrounding gardens, to create a continuous 'shelter belt'.

Around six species of bat use cracks and hollows in trees for their main roosts. Mature and dead trees often provide suitable habitat but are unfortunately often 'tidied away'. Where safe to do so, such trees should be left standing. Potential roost sites can also be provided by training climbers using batons against a wall or fence. Good climbers to use include honeysuckle, dog rose, ivy and bramble.

Bat boxes can also provide another source of potential roost sites, although it may be some years before they are occupied. Similar to bird boxes, but with a narrow entrance slot (no larger than 20mm) underneath, bat boxes should be placed as high as possible (on a tree or building) and face south to catch the sun.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although bat boxes can be useful, most bats roost in either buildings or underground sites, and will return to these same places year after year, but will not use them all year round. Whilst all bats and their roosts are fully protected by law, building works, such as re-roofing, and loft extensions as well as the blocking up of old tunnels and mines can unintentionally destroy sites. All existing roost sites must be protected - old mines and tunnels can be made safe with specially designed grills that keep people out but allow access for bats. Bats will access buildings using existing gaps, and will often roost in the eaves, under hanging tiles, or wooden cladding rather than in lofts themselves. Any building alterations should continue to allow access points and places for bats to roost, and there are now a number of 'bat bricks' on the market which allow for this. These bat bricks can be used if you want to try and cater for bats in your house or on any outbuildings; although there is no guarantee that they will be found by bats.

Native flowering trees

Think of a flowering tree and often trees from exotic far flung places like the Caribbean or China come to mind. But many people don’t realise just how elegantly beautiful and perfumed native British trees can be.

 

This has been an exceptionally good year for tree blossom, with a succession of attractive flowers through the last couple of months evident in hedgerows and woodlands. It started with the early flowering Blackthorn in April, followed by the heavily scented Bird Cherry, and then masses of Hawthorn blossom and the large flat heads of Rowan throughout May. At present, Guelder Rose is flowering profusely together with the frothy aromatic flowers of Elder (perfect for making a refreshing cordial).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These flowers have numerous benefits for a wide range of wildlife, providing an important source of nectar for many pollinating bees, butterflies and other insects. The early flowering blossom of trees like Blackthorn are especially valuable as they provide nectar at a time of year when there are few other flowers around. Significantly, the flowers transform into berries in late summer and autumn, loved by blackbirds, song thrushes, robins, bullfinches and fieldfares.

 

Whilst each individual tree can transform a corner of your garden, the impact of blossom en-masse can be stunning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the native trees mentioned above can be purchased on our website. Planting now will ensure a beautiful flowery display for next spring-summer.

Reptiles

The warmer days of early May are an excellent time of year to spot reptiles basking in the sunshine. Reptiles are fascinating and beautiful animals - you can consider yourself extremely lucky if they appear in your garden. England is home to just three species of snake - the grass snake, adder and smooth snake - and three species of lizard - common lizard, slow worm and sand lizard. Some of these are extremely rare, for example both the smooth snake and sand lizard are only present in small areas of the country (mainly Dorset) and are concentrated within certain habitats (such as sandy heathland).  The most likely species of reptile you will encounter in the garden are grass snakes, slow worms and common lizards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is evidence to suggest that these shy creatures have declined over the last few decades, mainly due to loss and neglect of habitat. Whilst the likelihood of reptiles being present in your garden is increased by what surrounds your garden (for example, if you back on to woods, or a railway embankment), there are ways in which gardens can provide additional habitat for reptiles.

The provision of quieter, less disturbed areas with plenty of cover such as long grass and shrubs will increase the chances of reptiles visiting your garden. Features such as rockeries, old patios, or wood and rock piles which are located in a sheltered and mainly south-facing position will provide a perfect basking site for these cold-blooded animals. Corrugated iron or old sections of carpet or plastic sheeting are also good, because these enable reptiles to warm up undisturbed. You will also be surprised at what other forms of wildlife choose these spots to shelter!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are two other features which provide good habitat for reptiles, and especially grass snakes, which are also excellent additions to any garden - a compost heap, and a pond. As an egg laying reptile, grass snakes need somewhere warm to incubate their eggs, and warm compost heaps often provide the perfect spot. Grass snakes are also excellent swimmers and are often found near water -  a pond will provide the perfect place for them to hunt for frogs, but will also provide you with a fascinating habitat attractive to a huge range of wildlife.

Our site backs on to both meadow, scrub, and extensive sand quarries, and we've been lucky enough to be regularly visited by common lizards who sunbathe on sheltered, south-facing areas where we've put a thick covering of straw mulch. We've unfortunately not seen any snakes yet, although adders have been spotted on nearby Rammamere Heath, managed by the Greensand Trust.

April update

April is a very busy time for us at Hedge and Habitat ensuring that all our stock is in perfect  condition for sale for the main growing season. We have recently started to mulch all trees and shrubs in their pots with woodchip – not only does this prevent the need for weeding, but it also replicates the woodland condition in which many of our native trees grow in, and looks good too!

 

We have a number of fantastic new trees in stock for the coming year, including silver birch, which is a beautifully graceful tree with distinctive silvery-white bark, and holly, which provides fantastic nesting habitat for birds as well as a ready supply of berries during the winter months. We have also added wild pear to our ‘wild fruit’ shop page. The wild pear is a beautiful tree in its own right, with masses of white blossom in the spring, but also produces small edible pears in the autumn.

 

Furthermore we have been developing a new range of products – ‘Habitat Packs’ containing specific selections of plants and seeds - which will enable our customers to grow complete habitats in their gardens. Please check our website in the coming months for details of these packs.

 

April is a really interesting time in the wildlife garden and the wider countryside. With the longer, warmer days, there is a real sense of growth in the air. Highlights of early April include the masses of primroses brightening up hedgerows and roadside embankments (such as along the Woburn Road in our village), as well as the ice-white blossom of the blackthorn hedgerows. There is a greatly increased bird activity at this time of year, with birds such as thrushes, blackbirds and robins busy building and lining nests.  The green woodpecker is particularly notable in Hedge and Habitat gardens at the moment; making its presence known through its loud call of a rapidly-repeated “kew-kew-kew”. The green woodpecker is a bird of open deciduous woodland that surprisingly feeds more on the ground than in trees for beetles, moths, ants and grubs. It also has a distinctive undulating flight, a flash of yellow-green alternately rising and falling in the air as it flaps and then closes its broad wings.  It is also a fascinating time in ponds at the moment as tadpoles begin to emerge from frog and toadspawn laid earlier in the year.

 

Planting a native hedge

Native hedgerows naturally provide shelter, sites for nesting, and a source of food throughout the year for a wide range of wildlife from tiny invertebrates to small mammals and birds. Moreover, hedgerows are an important part of our countryside’s heritage. Although ancient hedgerows do still exist in counties such as Devon or Kent, the majority of hedgerow planting took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as part of the Enclosure Acts. In the lanes that surround us here in Heath and Reach, the hedgerows consist mainly of hawthorn, and in particular, blackthorn. The branches of blackthorn hedgerows appear purple-red in the winter sun, and it provides one of the earliest spring flowering plants with a mass of snow white flowers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bare root hedging

Now is still the perfect time to plant a native hedgerow using bare root hedging. Bare root hedging is best planted between November and the end of February/early March, when the hedge saplings are still dormant.

 

1. Spacing

Spacing between the bare root hedge whips is a matter of personal preference, depending upon the number of whips and the required hedgerow length. We recommend as a rough guide 3-4 saplings whips per 1 metre.

 

2. Planting

Bare root whips can either be planted in a compost filled trench, or planted in a spade-depth slit and firmly ‘heeled in’. 

 

3. Mulching

We recommend adding mulch to the area around the newly planted hedge saplings to retain moisture and prevent the ground from drying out, but also to prevent weeds from establishing. Sources of mulch can include chopped bark, cardboard, black plastic sheeting, and weed free compost.

 

4. Initial Cut

Once all the whips have been planted and mulched we recommend cutting each sapling in half, or at least by a third. This may seem incredible drastic, but it will help each hedge sapling to produce vigorous and bushier growth from the cut, and enable quicker establishment of a dense, wildlife friendly hedge.

 

Hedgerow Management

Once established, hedgerows are tolerant of quite intensive trimming, and can even be coppiced (cut right across just above ground level). We believe hedgerows are best pruned in January or February which allows wildlife the opportunity to utilise berries and nuts throughout the autumn-to-winter period, and before new hedgerow growth in spring.

 

The most traditional (and best) way to trim a hedgerow is to ‘lay’ the hedgerow. This method of hedgerow management was originally used to stock-proof the field boundary, but also looks very attractive in the garden setting. It is also an extremely wildlife-friendly form of hedgerow management as it creates excellent nesting habitat.

 

Certain areas of the country have distinctive styles of hedge laying, whereby hedgerow ‘pleachers’ (main stems/trunks) are cut ¾ of the way across near the base, and laid over at a specified angle. Hazel stakes and ‘plashings’ (thin woven hazel lengths) are used to keep the hedgerow secure. The National Hedge Laying Society provides more information on hedgelaying, including details of hedgelayers in your area: http://www.hedgelaying.org.uk/index.html.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are interested in planting a native hedgerow we sell top quality bare root hedge whips, including hawthorn, blackthorn, beech, hazel and dog rose.

Snow

Like the rest of the country, Hedge and Habitat gardens have been covered by a thick layer of snow for some time. This has created a beautiful white scene.

 

Wintry conditions can be a difficult time for wildlife, especially if berries are covered in snow and ice, or the ground is frozen. Whilst we believe that the best way to provide for wildlife is through using plants, we would certainly recommend providing a supplementary supply of fresh water as well as fruit, sunflower seeds or unsalted peanuts, during the harshest weather conditions to help garden birds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, midwinter can be excellent time to watch wildlife – not only might more birds seek sanctuary in gardens, but it can be easier to spot wildlife which would normally be hidden in vegetation. We have seen more of the foxes that live across the field from Hedge and Habitat gardens, in a belt of woodland that surrounds a sand quarry. We have also heard the foxes a lot more at night – Christmas to February is the mating season – when the vixen can shatter the nightly season with unearthly screams. Unlike urban foxes, these foxes seem to be a lot more shy and wary, though the colder weather brings them closer to gardens.

Making sloe gin

With the first frosts of autumn almost upon us, now is a great time to make sloe gin. Sloe gin is a delicious fruity liqueur, and it is extremely straightforward to make - it's basically a combination of blackthorn sloes, alcohol, and sugar.

 

The sloes should be gathered after the first frost in autumn. Each individual sloe should be pricked several times with a small pin or needle. They should then be transferred to a large airtight glass container or bottle, filling up to halfway. An equal quantity of sugar should be added, and then the bottle should be filled with gin (vodka can be used as an alternative).  It should be sealed and left in a cool place away from direct sunlight for six months, at which point it should be strained (using a muslin or cloth) and re-bottled and sealed. After another six months it will be ready to drink!

 

 

Wildflower meadows

Provided the ground is not too frozen or waterlogged, now is still an excellent time to sow a wildlife meadow. Wildflower meadows are brilliant for wildlife. They attract such a wide range of invertebrates, from butterflies and bees to grasshoppers and spiders. We would love to see all gardens – no matter how small – with areas of wildflower meadows. Not only can they look spectacular when in flower, but they are also great for low maintenance gardening – you mow less!

 

We’ve recently cut down our meadow area in the Hedge and Habitat garden. This is an annual occurrence that typically happens at the end of summer/beginning of autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creating your own wildflower meadow is easy! If you are interested in having one in your garden, the following provides some tips on how to do it. The most important thing to remember is that the poorer and less nutrient-rich the soil, the better.

 

Location

  • Choose an area that receives full sun for most of the day
  • Create a weed free bed on which to sow the meadow seed. If possible strip back and remove nutrient rich top soil to expose poorer soil. 

Sowing

  • Sow the seed (link in here), taking care to get an even spread of seed, and water in well using a fine spray.

Cutting

  • Cut the meadow at the end of the summer/early autumn, using either a strimmer of shears, before going over the area with a lawn mower.
  • Rake the meadow area to remove clippings

 

We have wildflower ‘meadow mix’ seed currently reduced. Click on this page for more details….

Butterflies

We’re been monitoring butterflies and moths that have been visiting the Hedge and Habitat gardens over the summer. Butterflies, and especially first sighting dates, are often monitored because butterflies act as an important early warning system for potential changes in other species. If their numbers are falling, other wildlife will also be suffering.

The 56 species of butterfly in Britain and Ireland are under threat today from unprecedented environmental change. British butterflies have declined steadily for years, and the latest statistics show that wet summers have accelerated these declines. The main causes of many butterfly species' long-term decline include the loss of important habitats such as flower rich grassland and the intensification of farming methods. A lack of management is also causing problems in habitats such as woodlands.

Despite this, it has been a good year for painted ladies, millions of which have migrated to Britain from North Africa and Spain. These high numbers are due mainly to lush vegetative winter growth which produced ideal conditions for caterpillars. They undertake a remarkable migration, travelling in the region of 2,500 kilometers in as little as ten days.

Although we haven’t monitored first sighting dates, we do keep an eye on what butterflies and moths have been visiting. A selection of the species that have visited us are photographed below. They include (clockwise from top left): Painted Lady, Gate Keeper, Peacock, Small White, Comma, Meadow Brown,(inset) Ringlet and Orange tip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on our unscientific monitoring we have certainly had good numbers of butterflies visiting the garden. We hope this is the result of our meadow areas of grasses and native wildflowers including Teasel, Oxeye Daisy, Field Scabious, and Common Knapweed as well as typical garden plants like Buddleia. 

 

There are many ways to help provide for, and attract, butterflies in the garden. In particular, butterflies will visit sunny, sheltered spots where there is a good supply of nectar producing plants. This could include primroses and bluebells in spring, through to oxeye daises, scabious, chives, mint, lavender and buddleia in the summer months. It’s not always essential but native wildflowers are especially good nectar plants for butterflies, whilst areas of meadow (including nettles!) will encourage the native butterflies to breed. Native plants and trees will also provide food for butterflies and moth caterpillars.

 

This blog entry is to mark the launch of our new range of native wildflowers now available nationwide – see this link for further details.

 

Wildlife Pond

In order to further provide for the amphibians and a host of insect-life we've recently replaced our old pond with a better, bigger pond. Now is an excellent time to do it - its after the mating season, but there's still enough time for the pond to re-establish before winter. Our old pond was too small, had become overgrown, and the liner was cracked in several places.

The old pond has therefore been carefully removed - ensuring all froglets were rescued - and replaced with a larger, deeper and re-shaped pond using new butyl liner. As with any good wildlife pond we created gently slopping sides, two 'shelves' to provide areas for marginal planting, a deeper section to encourage newts, and a 'beach' area. To give this new pond a good start, some pond mud and water was saved and transferred from the old pond, and topped up with rainwater. This will provide a new source of pond life vital for its re-establishment.

We intend to periodically provide further blog updates to let you know how the pond is developing. So far the water has turned greenish in colour - a sign of a growth in algae due to high levels of sunlight and nutrients. This is quite normal for a newly constructed pond. We hope that once the vegetation cover increases the pond will 'settle' down.

Frogs, Toads and Newts

We’ve always had a profusion of amphibians on our site – mainly frogs and toads but also common newts. These are all fascinating creatures that lend a hand in the garden by devouring insects, slugs and snails. Though much is written about amphibians at spring mating time, less is written about their summer movements.

 

The frogs on our site seem to leave the pond and surrounding area at about the same time each evening (9.30pm dusk – you can set your watch by it!) and tend to head in the same direction through our potted tree paved area towards our neighbours. Heading off to a known area of food or just a coincidence? They tend to back in the pond the next morning! We would be interested to know if any research has been done on nightly summer movement patterns of frogs? - we’re certainly aware that frogs have some level of ‘homing instinct’ in that they return to the same pond each spring to mate.

 

By contrast the toads seem to follow a different night time feeding strategy – a more solitary and stealthy ‘sit and wait’ exercise, often utilising an area of warm brickwork or paving.

 

Much less is known about the movement of newts, which in the summer months only become apparent when large stones or rocks surrounding the pond are upturned (and then replaced).  Although slow moving on land, newts are greedy feeders and will devour slugs, snails, worms and even other newts. However, they best observed in water, where they are extremely graceful and agile swimmers, often favouring quite deep water.

 

Elderflowers

The local hedgerows have been covered in the creamy coloured sprays of elderflowers for the last month or so. Their beautifully fragrant flowers are one of the best sights and smells of early summer.

 

It’s still not too late to pick the flowers for a wide range of culinary uses, including sorbets, ice-creams, jellies, infusions, and jams. The flavour of the flowers is best captured if picked on a warm sunny day, choosing well opened, fresh flower heads. Our favourite use of elderflower sprays is to make refreshing elderflower cordial – so we’ve included the easy recipe below...

 

Elderflower cordial recipe

  • Pick 20 or so elder flowerheads and place in a bowl with the zest of a couple of lemons and an orange, and approximately 1kg of granulated sugar. A heaped teaspoon of tartaric acid can be added if you want the cordial to last longer than a week.
  • Pour over enough boiled water to cover them, and then leave overnight.
  • Strain the liquid through a muslin (or clean drying-up cotton cloth!), and then pour through funnel into clean sterilised bottles.
  • Dilute to taste with still or fizzy water.

Elder is also a valuable shrub to grow for wildlife - it’s fruits are available in late summer when few other shrubs are in fruit and are quickly consumed by a diverse range of birds. We’ve currently got some beautiful elder shrubs in stock.

 

 

Parasitic flowers and airborne acrobatics

It's an excellent time of the year in the Hedge and Habitat garden, with rapid and lush growth as a result of the long daylight hours.

 

A particular highlight at the moment is the wildflower meadow, which is in its 'early summer' state. The wildflower of the moment is the fantastic Yellow Rattle - an annual of grassy meadows and pastures, its semi-parasitic qualities means that it reduces the dominance of vigorous grasses. It is therefore an excellent flower to sow in establishing meadows. It also attracts a number of bumblebees including the buff-tailed, red-tailed, and white-tailed bumblebees.

 

Following the recent hot weather in late May/early June the Yellow Rattle flowers transformed from flowers to seed pods (calyx), which ‘rattle’ when ripe. Yellow Rattle was also called the 'hay-rattle' and was traditionally used as an indicator that a hay meadow was ready to be mown. However we won’t be mowing our meadow just yet...this will happen at the end of summer. We’ll be stocking Yellow Rattle seed in September (autumn is the best time to sow for flowers the following year) so that you too can sow this fascinating wildflower.

 

Overhead the housemartins and swifts continue their spectacular evening acrobatics - the housemartins recognisable by their lively chirrupy chatter, tumbling and swooping in flight, whilst the swifts effortlessly race higher and higher into the sky.

 

 

 

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