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Volunteers tackle the thorns to provide new growth for wildlife

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Posted: Tuesday 14th February 2017 by Bernwood Project

Laying a section of hawthorn hedge by Charlotte Karmali

Charlotte Karmali explains why laying sections of a thorny hedgerow each year is so important for wildlife

Charlotte KarmaliWritten by Charlotte Karmali

Volunteer Warden at Finemere Wood, Bucks



It was a bleak and bitterly cold January day, layers of grey cloud obscured the sky from view. The volunteers trailed through the dark, dank wood to gather on the adjoining meadows. Exposed to the elements, this was not the best place to be on such an inhospitable day.

We split into small groups: some to grapple with blackthorn, as they clear and lay sections of the woodland edge; others to continue laying the blackthorn hedge alongside the drover’s track; the smallest people are reserved for a task that most now refuse to do.

Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna): a dense and thorny tree, which can grow up to 15 metres tall. Its bark is grey and fissured, its trunk twisted. The small, deeply lobed leaves appear before the flowers. Known as the May-Tree, the white, pink scented blossom blooms in May. Deep red haws are its fruit. Often hybridising with the UK’s other native hawthorn, the Midland Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata), the two are difficult to tell apart.

Across the centre of the meadows lies a young hawthorn hedgerow, sandwiched between barbed wire fences. Each year we lay a section, creating a dense base ideal for nesting birds. Year on year, the hawthorn grows, leaving less and less space for working volunteers. The tall ones, so suited for reaching high branches, can no longer fold themselves into this area; others will no longer tolerate the discomfort of mud and thorns and a cold wind that chills you to the bone. And so we post the small and mighty through the barbed wire into this desolate spot.

Hawthorn’s value to wildlife is boundless: supporting more than 300 invertebrates, it is a food plant for many moths and a nectar and pollen source for others. The flowers are eaten by dormice and the haws by birds. Laying this hedge is challenging, but many species will benefit from the resulting vigorous new growth.

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