There has been some exciting RSPB management at Hesketh Out Marsh recently which I will have a stab at describing here.
We were fortunate to receive grant aid through Higher Level Stewardship for hedge-laying work. This funding was only available for a relatively short period so we were very pleased to have been successful in getting the funding and being able to crack on with it.
As it stood, the hedge was of relatively low value to wildlife, as anyone who has surveyed it over the last 5 years will be able to confirm. It had been neglected for many years, had little lateral growth and seldom produced any berries. It was more like a line of little trees that had been planted too close together than a hedge. Hardly any birds attempted nesting in it although magpies found the hedge a desirable location. Although it looks a bit sad at the moment in its recently chopped state, we can guarantee that it will harbour much more wildlife next year and in the years to come.
We have also planted a considerable length of new hedge. If you put our site in its local context, it’s great that our neighbour’s hedges are also still relatively young . This means that we now have a very healthy age-mosaic in the area with every stage from new to old as well as laid, flailed and un-managed hedges within a mile radius. We hope that some of our neighbours may follow our example and lay their hedges as they mature in years to come.
Hedge-laying is a traditional method of prolonging the life of a hedge and creating a stock-proof barrier. The first hedge-layers may not have realised that they were also creating a fantastic wildlife habitat at the same time. The new vertical growth of stems that arises in the spring to cross the laid horizontal branches, provides a wonderful nesting and feeding area for smaller birds and animals, protected from predators by a thorny screen. We are confident that we will add linnet to the nesting birds in the hedgerow along with a number of the other typical farmland/woodland edge species and if we are very lucky, yellowhammer too (we have left the occasional tall hawthorn as a song perch for them). The shrubs will also flower and fruit more vigorously (incidentally, this technique works well in the garden too!)
Local folk may like to know that the hedge is laid in the ‘Lancashire style’ by one of the few local experts in this craft.
We have fenced the hedge off from the grazers, leaving a wide strip of ground into which the hedge can expand. This will create a broad-based hedge which will be of much greater value than the narrow-based old hedge we started with. The rough grassland edge that will develop next year we hope will be the perfect place for grey partridges to nest.
The hedge was casting a shade on the flora which I think will be evident when we see next year’s growth of flowering plants. It was also shading out the ditch on the inland side. This is known to be a negative factor for another of our special wildlife species, the water vole, as well as of course suppressing aquatic plant growth.
Now its done we can’t wait for the spring to see the hedge take off!
Last Wednesday evening I had an amazing view of a Barn owl as it flew right over my head!I was lucky to watch it for quite a while as it was hunting along the bottom of the sea wall next to the hedge heading straight towards me, as I was walking along the newly laid hedge measuring the new fence heading straight towards it. I thought it would have turned to fly away from me but instead it continued towards me undeterred by my presence. Why do i never have a camera when I need one?