March marks the meteorological start of spring and it’s also the time to start looking out for the first blackthorn [Prunus spinosa] flowers.
Blackthorn flowers are easy to spot because they appear before any of the hedgerow leaves.
As soon as you spot the first flowers you’ll suddenly begin to notice whole swathes of them. At this time of year of you might be forgiven for thinking all hedgerows are predominantly blackthorn, but our hedgerow assessments can offer an insight into the diversity of hedgerows.
Why are hedgerow assessments important?
Hedgerows are protected under the Hedgerows Regulations Act 1997 and these are part of planning regulations. The Regulation was brought into effect due to the changes in agricultural practices which saw a rapid removal of hedgerows from the countryside.
“Hedgerows have their part to play in helping us to respond and adapt to climate change, providing conduits through which wildlife may move, and protecting soil, livestock and property against extreme weather events. They even help to lock up carbon and provide a sustainable source of fuel. ” Hedgerow survey Handbook (2007)
This protection covers hedgerows over 30 years old and over 20 metres long (or if shorter, connected to other hedgerows at both ends or part of a longer hedgerow).
Hedgerow removal is a tricky subject and a landowner who wishes to remove a hedgerow must serve a Hedgerow Removal Notice in writing on their local planning authority. The authority then has to determine whether or not the hedgerow is ‘important’ and whether or not to issue a Hedgerow Retention Notice.
What makes a hedgerow important?
This is where hedgerow assessments come into their own.
We need to assess how many woody species are within the hedgerow, how old it is and whether the hedgerow is associated with any archaeological sites of interest.
There are lots of different combinations of features that make a hedgerow important, such as being at least 30 years old and have a minimum of 6 woody species and a supporting bank and/or ditch running along its length.
Woody species include alder, wild cherry, dogwood, black-poplar, hawthorn and of course blackthorn.
The NWS Arboriculturist can help
Jim Allitt is our resident Arborculturist and can help with any questions you have regarding hedgerows and what you can and can’t do. Having a hedgerow assessment early on in any proposed development will allow you to understand more about the hedgerows you are working with and help you to plan any mitigation.
So the next time you see a hedgerow full of blackthorn flower don’t dismiss it, you may be looking at a very important hedge!