In this guest blog, farmer Chris Crocker further explains his own motivations for the National Hedgerow Initative that his brother Rob Crocker introduced to us here.
(All views shared are those of the individual farmer and have not been edited by the RSPB)
Our hedgerows are a vital wildlife habitat which many farmers and landowners are unwittingly destroying. This is a relatively recent problem. I have been farming for 40 years in Cornwall and the annual trimming of every hedge each year is something quite new. This has happened for various reasons but the most common is for ‘aesthetics.’ Many farmers seem to think that ‘neat and tidy’ is more important than maintaining a diverse habitat which will support wildlife.
Chris and Rachel Crocker. Image: Claire Mucklow
The fact is that most blossom is produced on last year’s growth. If hedges are flailed each year there will be no blossom. No blossom, no pollen, no nectar, nothing for the bees and other insects, no berries for the birds to feed on and prepare for winter. If hedges are trimmed so hard that there is no vegetation or they are thin and spindly there is nowhere for birds to nest and hide from predators.
Here in North Cornwall we are very exposed and the hedges have been ‘sculpted’ by the wind and have become part of the iconic landscape with the characteristic bent trees and shrubs leaning away from the prevailing south-westerlies.
My brothers and I want to try and create a farmer-led initiative [one of the main reasons we hear that people voted out of Europe was that we did not want to be told what to do by Brussels] to create wildlife corridors using hedges to link farms and wildlife habitats. Now we have the opportunity to produce a workable plan of our own to manage wildlife habitats. It’s a very simple idea with no cost [even saving money on hedge-trimming].
Image: Claire Mucklow
We know that British farmers produce the best food in the world with the best welfare standards. We also need to produce it in the most environmentally friendly manner.
What we are proposing is not costing us anything extra but it will add value to our produce whether it is meat, vegetables or grain. If we can truly say that we are responsible custodians of the countryside then that has got to be worth something and we believe it is something that the general public would support. We will be passing on a better environment for future generations.
The aim is for farmers to voluntarily manage 10% or more of their hedges in a far more sympathetic manner e.g. only trimming every 3-4 years to allow the hedges to mature and create habitats and a larder for hedgerow birds and creatures. Hedges will become corridors connecting farm to farm, wildlife site to wildlife site. Some farms have SSSI’s, some have moorland, wetland and woodland. These need to be linked together.
Image: Chris Crocker
Could you take a similar approach on your own farm? If you're interested in finding out more or getting involved, get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org