Hedgerow Havens project case study: a haven for wildlife at Rectory Farm
The Hedgerow Havens project aims to conserve farmland species in the area around Aylesbury by working with local landowners and parish councils. The project will improve the quality of 'linear' habitats like hedgerows, field margins, ditches, road verges, watercourses, scrapes and ponds on farms and in villages. This is the story of the Hedgerow Havens Project’s work creating a haven for wildlife at Rectory Farm.
The Field at Rectory Farm in Weedon has an area of approximately 1 hectare. Prior to the current owners moving in this area had been a horse paddock, grazed short in most years. In the years since, the field had been allowed to grow wild and by 2019 had become dominated by coarse grasses and cow parsley. During 2019, BBOWT’s Hedgerow Havens project worked alongside the owners of Rectory Farm to develop a plan to turn the area into a mini nature reserve.
As the map shows, the site has been designed to include two new ponds, earth banks, 260 metres of new hedgerow, a small wildflower meadow, a laid hedgerow and a mosaic of patchy scrub areas which will develop over the next 25 years. There is also a plan to create a small orchard in the north west corner of the site.
Work started on site in December 2019 when local contractors laid the hedge adjoining the road. This hedge was largely filled with elm in the early stages of succumbing to Dutch Elm disease and was as such desperately in need of some rejuvenation. This was carried out through the process of ’mechanical hedgelaying’.
This rough and ready technique involves chainsaw operators making an incision at the base of the tree, whilst still leaving part of the live portion of the tree attached to the stump. The trees are then laid over with a digger. This technique has the benefit of being the fastest and cheapest way to lay a hedgerow and is in fact better for the wildlife that uses the hedge.
Unlike traditional hedgelaying where much of the woody material so important for wildlife is removed, with this technique all the woody material is retained, creating a thick protective barrier for wildlife living within.
In January 2020 the digger and dumper rolled on site to carry out the creation of the two ponds and the earth bank. After a week of tracking back and forth across the site, two large ponds of around 400m2 each were ready and already filling with water, and 190m of earth bank had been created, all ready to be planted up with a new hedgerow. In the months since, the ponds have begun to be colonised by a small number of plants and insects. Herons have also been spotted.
Following this several groups of volunteers from the local village of Weedon, the Hedgerow Havens Project and a group of corporate volunteers descended on the site to carry out the planting. After three days of work and numerous home baked cakes, 260m of new species-rich hedgerow had been planted. After another couple of days the wildflower meadow and the new earth banks had also been sown with wildflower seeds.
The seeds have germinated and grown through the coronavirus lockdown and by June had bloomed, attracting numerous pollinators to the site. The cornfield annuals that have bloomed this year will soon be cut back to be replaced by the meadow species growing below which will continue to support local wildlife going forward.
Work will continue on site over the rest of 2020 with plans to patch up a leaking pond and create hibernacula for the amphibians using the ponds.