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Project ideas page

Many Biology A-level courses have the option of an extended investigation as their practical coursework component. The purpose of this page is to generate project ideas related to hedgerows or farmland.

On a practical note, don't forget when carrying out project work on farm property to ask permission from the landowner. Also, think about when you will be doing your fieldwork: there is nothing worse than carefully planning your project, and only later finding out that the subject of your investigation is not present at that time of year.

Project ideas

The impact of agriculture on hedgerow diversity

This could take the form of a survey of plant and/or invertebrate species present in hedgerows bordering fields under different agricultural practices, for example, cattle grazing, sheep grazing, set-aside, or intensive crop production. It would be preferable to find a single hedgerow neighbouring a number of fields under each agricultural practice, if one could be found. Conclusions could be drawn regarding which agricultural practice impacts the most severely on hedgerow ecology. Hedgerow conservation plans could also be suggested.

The impact of different hedgerow management regimes on hedgerow diversity

This could also take the form of a survey of plant and/or invertebrate species present in hedgerows under different management regimes, such as yearly cutting, cutting every two years, abandonment, and recently planted. Remember that under-management of hedgerows can be as detrimental to hedgerow ecology as over-management.

As before, it would be ideal to find a single hedgerow which is under various management regimes, but in practice this is unlikely. Conclusions could be drawn regarding which hedgerow management regime supports the most diverse hedgerow communities, and hedgerow conservation plans drawn up.

The conservation value of different regions within a hedgerow

Hedgerows can be subdivided into different regions: hedge bottom (grasses, shrubs and leaf litter at the base of the hedge), lower branches, middle branches and top branches, and so on. The conservation value of each region could be determined by sampling the range of invertebrates present. This project would, therefore, take the form of invertebrate hedgerow surveys and, as before, hedgerow conservation plans could be drawn up. Which farming practices are likely to be most detrimental to the 'conservation value' of hedgerows? 

The value of hedgerows to bird species

Hedgerows can comprise a range of different hedgerow tree and shrub species, such as hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, holly, beech and elm. In this project, you could investigate the value of each 'hedge type' to birds. You don't need to build a hide - just ensure that you position yourself at a distance from the hedge where you can see which bird species are using the hedge, but don't frighten them away. You can then look at bird species, visit frequencies, visit durations and activities - eg feeding, displaying, visiting nest.

You would need to think carefully about standardising your recordings and cutting down on the many variables present between different hedgerow types. For example, you would need to take recordings at the same time of year and day, and at a similar distance from the hedge each time. You need to standardise what you record, eg the number of species per hour, or half-hour, and what constitutes a 'use' of the hedge, eg a visit of 15 seconds or more. From your findings, you could establish the conservation value of different hedgerow types for bird species.

The value of hedgerows as sources of biological control agents

Farming does not only impact on hedgerows; hedgerows can also impact on farming. The value of certain invertebrate species, such as the ladybird, as predators of crop pests has been generally accepted in farming circles. These animals act as biological control agents and, when fully utilised, can cut down on the quantity of pesticides required to keep pest populations under control. In this project, you could investigate the value of different hedgerow types as sources of biological control agents. Hedgerows could be surveyed to establish the size of the invertebrate populations they harbour, and scored as to their value for biological control. 

The Council for the Protection of Rural England produces a Hedgerow Action Pack. The website often carries information and current stories about hedgerows. Tel: 0171 976 6433.

Farming and wildlife: A practical management handbook, Andrews J and Rebane M (1994). This publication is now out of print but your local library may be able to help you.

Hedgerows and Field Margins for Shooting and Conservation, BASC (1994). Available from British Association for Shooting and Conservation.

Hedging, Dowdeswell W H (1975). Available from British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, 36 St Mary's Street, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, OX10 OEU.