Hedge planting has taken place over several hundred years, and early planting made use of naturally occurring seedlings. It is likely that the 19th Century saw the greatest amount of new hedgerows emerging in the landscape. This was made possible by the development of tree nurseries such as at Ty Mawr near Llanybydder, which could supply large quantities of hedgerow plants including hawthorn, blackthorn, and beech.
In Carmarthenshire it was the fields at higher elevations, on what had been open, un-enclosed land, that were being hedged during this period. These hedgerows can be seen in the landscape today, typically where the field pattern is rectangular or geometric in comparison to the more irregular field shapes associated with the lower lying areas, which are usually considered to be of earlier origin.
Old maps such as the Tithe Maps, and estate records can tell us about the history of field patterns, and from these we can deduce that the vast majority of the landscape of rural Carmarthenshire that we see today, was in place by 1845.
Maps also indicate where changes in the field pattern have subsequently taken place. There are farms in the Tywi Valley where, during the second half of the 19th century an older field pattern was replaced by something more geometric and more ordered, presumably following the fashion of the day.
Carmarthenshire’s hedgerows typically consist of a wide variety of woody shrubs. However on some of the higher land, some hedgerows consist almost exclusively of laburnum (Laburnum anagroides and L. alpinum). It is thought that at some time in the 19th century a supply of this somewhat unusual hedging plant became available. Similar hedgerows and be found in Ceredigion and north-east Pembrokeshire.
While much of the elm in the county has succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease, elm continues to thrive in hedgerows in some parts of the county, such as on the Llanelli Levels and in parts of the Tywi Valley. As a hedgerow shrub, rather than a tree, it is usually too small to host the wood-boring beetles that carry the fatal disease. It is important that elm rich hedgerows are cut back or laid from time to time, so as to ensure the survival of this species in the county. Wych-elm is the food plant for the white-letter hairstreak, an elusive butterfly that can still be found in parts of the county.
Hedgerows and Biodiversity
Across Carmarthenshire hedgerows provide a rich and varied wildlife habitat. They offer shelter, a supply of food, and a route linking different habitats along which wildlife can travel. If we look closely at a hedgerow we can see that in fact it provides for wildlife in many ways.
Hedgerows and Birds
||The British Trust for Ornithology has carried out research demonstrating that hedgerows are particularly important for some of our farmland birds, including goldfinch, whitethroat, and greenfinch, while other species are more frequently associated with woodlands. |
Hedges and woodlands appear to support different birds. The structure of a hedgerow will also influence the types of birds it supports - and a variety of hedgerow types will, in turn, support wide variety of birds.
Blackbirds, robins and wrens all prefer hedgerows that are thick right down to their base, whereas little owls like hedgerows with tall trees, in which to nest and from which to hunt. Hedgerows are an important hunting ground for sparrowhawks, often seen flying fast and low alongside a hedge.
Tall grassy areas and brambles at the base of a hedgerow support high populations of small mammals making them good hunting places for barn owl. Fencing out of hedgerows, and placing the fence one pace from the base of the bank, achieves this goal.
Small mammals and insects
Many small mammals feed and shelter in hedgerows. They will also use hedgerows when travelling from one area to another. Remove the hedgerows from a landscape and many of the small mammals will disappear as well.
Hedgerows are rich in insects and are consequently important feeding areas for bats.
||In Carmarthenshire, blackthorn hedgerows are crucial for the survival of the brown hairstreak butterfly. These butterflies lay their eggs on 3 and 4 year old blackthorn in late summer. When the leaves open in May it is on this plant that the caterpillar feeds. |
It is vitally important that hedgerows supporting this butterfly are not trimmed every year, but that they are cut on a longer rotation, ideally every 3 or 4 years, so as to provide the necessary habitat.
Hedgerow trees add another dimension to the wildlife a hedgerow supports, adding a number of mini habitats not usually found in a hedgerow, such as standing dead wood, holes for nesting bird and bat roosts, mature bark which may support lichens, mosses, ferns, and ivy, as well as a huge canopy, important for a range of insects. These trees are extremely important features in the landscape, and hedgerow management should be designed to conserve those that are present and to allow the establishment of new hedgerow trees.
Carmarthenshire Hedgerow Trees and Shrubs
The woody shrubs and trees most frequently recorded in Carmarthenshire’s hedgerows are:
l Wild Rose
When planting new hedges or filling gaps in old, aim to use transplants grown from locally collected seed. Use a similar mix of species to that in the hedgerows near by, as these are the species most likely to thrive. Protect from stock and the flail. Remember to mulch young plants as this will increase their chances of survival and rates of growth.
Good Practice Guide for Hedgerow Management
l Look after all hedgerows on your land. They need not all be managed in the same way and ideally some should be allowed to become wide tall hedgerows.
l Identify those hedgerows that may need to be laid, and aim to carry out a proportion of this work every year over a number of years, e.g.10 years.
l Retain existing hedgerow trees and identify and safeguard those that will be the trees of the future. Plant new saplings where none are present. Protect and mark these so that no one forgets what they are for! Birds will use these young trees as song posts.
l Stock can damage hedgerows by browsing and trampling. New re-growth after hedge-laying is particularly vulnerable. When fencing to protect a hedgerow from stock, place the fence at least one large pace from the base of the bank. This will allow the shrubby growth to develop on the bank while creating an area of tall grasses at its base. This is an important habitat for small mammals and insects, and one that is often lacking in tightly grazed fields.
l Aim to avoid annual flailing of all your hedgerows. Where possible flail every 2 or 3 years. If you have lots of blackthorn in your hedgerows, there is a possibility that brown hairstreak butterflies may use these, so avoid flailing altogether or cut every 3 or 4 years to ensure a supply of 3-year-old blackthorn for the butterfly. Seek advice from Butterfly Conservation.
l Hedgerows and dormice. If the hedgerow is rich in hazel and honeysuckle keep an eye out for signs of dormice – they eat their favorite food, hazel nut, in a particular way. Dormice are a European protected species. Seek advice from the Countryside Council for Wales.
l Leave some of your hedgerows uncut until February, so wildlife can enjoy this feast. The berries in the hedgerows provide an important source of food for birds and small mammals over the winter months.
l Look after nesting birds. Avoid carrying out any hedgerow work during the nesting season – March – July.
l Nest boxes placed in hedgerow trees are usually quickly occupied. Tie these on with an old bicycle inner tube or similar, rather than using nails.
l If you need to replant a section of a hedgerow, aim to use transplants grown from locally collected seed. Use a similar mix of species to that in other hedgerows near by, these are the species most likely to thrive. Protect from stock and the flail.
l Create a 2m wide fertilizer and herbicide free buffer zone adjacent to your hedgerows.
Hedgerows, the Law and Sources of Further Advice
HEDGEROW REGULATIONS 1997
Since July 1997 it has been against the law to remove hedgerows, or parts of a hedgerow, without permission.
If you wish to remove a hedgerow, or any part of a hedgerow, please contact:
Carmarthenshire County Council
40 Spilman Street
Carmarthen SA31 1LQ
Tel: 01267 224880
The way in which the Regulations apply to hedgerows can be quite complex, so you are advised to discuss your proposals with the Council at an early stage.
You will probably need to submit a Hedgerow Removal Notice and a plan showing the hedgerow in question.
Your application will usually be determined in 42 days.
If you remove a hedgerow without permission, you may face an unlimited fine. You may also have to replace the hedgerow.
Felling of hedgerow trees may require a Felling Licence. These are issued by the Forestry Commission. If you fell trees without a licence you may face prosecution.
Contact the Forestry Commission for further advice:
Abergavenny NP7 7AK
Tel 01873 850060
Tree Preservation Orders
Some hedgerow trees are also covered by Tree Preservation Orders. Before carrying out any work to these trees you will need to contact the Council’s Conservation Section to gain the necessary consents. Tel 01267 224971.
Other sources of advice
The Countryside Council for Wales runs the Tir Gofal Scheme. This offers grant aid towards the cost of an agreed programme of environmental projects, such as hedge-laying as part of a whole farm scheme.
Countryside Council for Wales
Llandeilo SA19 7HS
Tel 01558 825800
County Plant Recorder
Richard Pryce, Treveithin, Old School Road, Pwll, Llanelli SA15 4AL
Wildlife Trust South and West Wales
The Welsh Wildlife Centre, Cwmplysgod,
Cardigan SA43 2SJ
Tel 01239 621212
Cambria Archaeology may be able to help you in tracing the history of a particular landscape. They also hold an archive of old maps.
The Old Shire Hall, Carmarthen Street, Llandeilo SA19 6AF
Tel 01558 823121
County Mammal Recorder
Neil Matthew at the Countryside Council for Wales (see above)
10 Calvert Terrace, Swansea SA1 5AR
Tel 01792 642972
County Bird Recorder
Tony Forster, Ffos-Ddu, Salem, Llandeilo SA19 7NS