The Functions of Hedgerows and Living Fences
Hedgerows provide habitat for a large variety of mammal, bird, reptile, and insect species, many of which are beneficial predators of plant pests. Encouraging game birds can provide recreation for the landowner and a potential source of revenue.
- Wildlife corridors
- Nectar source: bees and other pollinators
- Edge species that thrive where two or more habitats come together.
Diversify Farm Income
Tree, shrub, and herbaceous plants can be selected for production of additional sources of farm income. Lumber, fire-wood, fruits and berries, medicinal herbs, seeds for collection, and ornamental plants are some products that can be grown in a hedgerow.
- Food source: leaves, berries, nuts roots, shoots, fungi, etc.
- Coppice: for regeneration and craft materials source
- Garden: garden stacks, tool handles
- Source of seeds, rootstock, and cuttings for propagation
- Dye plant source
Reduce Soil Erosion and Soil Conditioner
Water flow from rain and irrigation can cause serious erosion. Clean cultivation and vacant field borders increase erosion potential. Hedgerows provide a barrier that can slow water flow and trap soil particles. Soil conditioners act to increase water holding capacity and nitrogen fixing plants.
- Bank and soil stabilizers
- Sources of mulches, green manures, leaf mold
- Raise temperature of the soil and air, providing for earlier spring growth and increased yields (from 6% to 44%)
- Protecting the flower and fruit of trees
- Filter dust from the air
Hedgerows retain water and reduce evaporation and desiccation by blocking drying winds in summer thereby reducing irrigation needs and the energy necessary for pumping water.
Decrease Wind Damage
Wind can disturb pollination and damage fruit and flowers when plant parts thrash against each other. Plants under wind stress put energy into growing stronger roots and stems. The result is smaller and later yields. Strong winds cause grain and grass crops to lodge making harvest more difficult. Properly designed hedgerows dramatically reduce wind speed, thereby improving crop performance.
Farm Animal Fodder
Hedgerows provide animal fodder and protection for livestock from winter winds and summer suns. Trees may need to be have tree guards to prevent girdling of trunk or the browsing of young shoots.
Create Borders and Privacy Screens
Hedgerows provide attractive borders or boundary markers. They allow for privacy screens along roadsides and between properties. As they mature and become dense they can reduce noise and serve as fencing.
Biodiversity in Agriculture
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that agriculture can benefit from greater biodiversity. Soil microfauna, such as bacteria and fungi, break down organic matter, help maintain the quality of soils and recycle nutrients. Some arthropods, mainly insects, spiders and mites, pollinate crop plants and fruit trees, and prey on agricultural pests. At the ecosystem level, farm hedgerows and woodlots can attract beneficial insects or predators that feed on agricultural pests. In other words, increasing biodiversity on the farm does not necessarily translate into more weeds, insects and other pests.
There are also many indirect, but no less important, benefits of hedgerows. Through biodiversity they create a mosaic of plant and animal species bringing back a beauty and humanization to production farms that feeds the soul of the farmer, his family, friends and neighbors.