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Close to the Hedge - by Steve Alton of FlowerScapes

All Big60Million solar farms are planted with strips of wildflower seed mix, and very often we also plant native trees and bushes to reinforce existing hedgerows or create new ones. Here, Steve Alton of our “planting partner” FlowerScapes reflects on what makes a hedge good for biodiversity, including the wild flowers with which our surviving farmland hedgerows are intimately associated.

“The FlowerScapes company hedge replaced a dull stretch of Lonicera nitida a few years ago Now, it’s literally starting to bear fruit. We had our first spindle berries last year, and this year we’ve added bright red Guelder-rose fruit. We’ve had rosehips and blackberries in the hedge for several years, and we’re looking forward to sloes in the not too distant future.
“We’re great advocates of native hedgerows. They provide an effective barrier to livestock and people, alongside shelter, food and nectar for wildlife. Then there’s the flora of the hedge bottom — a strange twilight habitat that is neither woodland nor meadow, but shares features of both. Hedgerows on farms have traditionally remained relatively free from pesticides, because even the most zealous tractor driver couldn’t get too close. However, recent studies suggest farmland hedgerows are in trouble due to intensive farming — many have been grubbed up to make larger fields. Just after World War II there was over 800,000 km of hedge in Britain, but by 1990 there was only 171,000 km — a loss of nearly 80%!
“Of the hedgerows that have survived, the best might preserve fragments of remnant woodland dating back thousands of years.
“Recent research suggests that neonicotinoid pesticides, used as seed treatments on a range of crops, are appearing in hedgerow flowers, sometimes at far higher levels than in the crop itself. It seems as much as 94% of neonicotinoid applied to the crop ends up in the soil, where it is washed out to the field margins and accumulates. The margins, of course, are where most of our insect pollinators go foraging.
“Where hedgerows form the boundary between arable fields and roads, research found bumblebee numbers twice as high on the road facing side as on the crop facing side. This is probably partly related to herbicide effects, but also to the presence of road verge grassland adding further floral diversity. FlowerScapes has created a special roadside verge seed mix to help people planting or reinforcing native hedgerows to recreate a valuable wildlife habitat.
“It’s good to have research to back up what we think we know, even if it sometimes seems to be stating the obvious. A recent study showed that plots sown with wildflower seed mix had 25 times more flowers, 50 times more bumblebees and 13 times more hoverflies than paired control plots. We’ve designed our own UK native wildflower mix to produce a similar effect.”
Steve Alton
Flowerscapes Ltd

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