Stop 18: A vital connection
Hedgerows and canals allow wildlife to safely travel, rest and hunt. Let’s take a closer look at what lies beneath the water and the foliage.
Hedgerows provide the main boundary habitat along the canal, many of which were planted by the original canal companies.Today they remain the oldest established habitat and a characteristic feature of the canal corridor. Originally planted with native species such as hawthorn to provide a stock-proof barrier, but since colonised by a diversity of other shrubs and herbaceous species, these historical boundary features have become increasingly important for biodiversity, particularly through an era of agricultural intensification and increased development which has seen old hedges disappearing from the wider countryside.
The nectar-rich blossom in spring provides a food resource for invertebrates, whilst the autumn berries sustain birds through the latter months.Woodland and farmland birds as blackbirds, robins, wren, whitethroat, blue tit, and yellowhammer nest amongst the foliage and are a common sight and sound in spring and summer.
The hedgerow bases are important features in their own right, providing ground-nesting habitat for bird species such as grey partridge, as well as vital food and shelter for small mammals such as hedgehogs, bank voles and shrews. Amphibians and reptiles will additionally seek safe, damp sites to hibernate amongst the roots, whilst the hedgerow network provides vital commuting routes for bats between roosting and feeding sites.
The canal corridor is a unique linear landscape feature, lined with a mosaic of terrestrial habitats of rich riparian flora, towpath verges, hedgerows and trees. As well as being important habitat features in their own right, together these habitats together create a fundamental resource for wildlife survival, in an increasingly fragmented landscape.
The hedgerows, verges and bankside habitats along our canals collectively form a continuous ‘green corridor’ which connect wildlife and habitats. This offers a means of food and refuge for many species, whilst providing a safe network of habitat connectivity to allow wildlife to move freely between further habitats and landscapes such as woodland, wetland, built structures and urban environments to meet their survival needs.
Hedgerows are one of the most important connectivity features alongside the canal, providing access to further foraging areas, breeding grounds and nest and roost sites for many birds, bats, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals and insects. Appropriate management is therefore essential to maintain the value of these features for biodiversity. This can be achieved through the encouragement of traditional techniques such as coppicing, hedge-laying to improve the health of our hedgerows, as well as planting up gaps and replacing lost hedgerows to retain these important connections within the landscape.
Last date edited: 17 July 2015