The cult of tidiness must end. Its end will see the beginning of a move to reconnect our landscape for wildlife. The cult of tidiness forces land managers to destroy wildlife habitats and wildlife corridors; hedges are flailed to within an inch of their lives, often just before berries burst into life, or when birds are nesting. Road verges are stripped of floral abundance because the rhythms of a contractor have precedence over the rhythms of nature. Trees along a railway are chipped to prevent their leaves causing delay. The lines that these habitats create are crucial components of efforts to overcome one of the most serious issues facing wildlife – habitat fragmentation. Chopping up the landscape into ever-smaller patches leads to piecemeal extinctions as populations become unviable. And these barriers can come in many different forms – the most obvious, such as busy roads, prevent animals from moving through the landscape, either because they are killed or too scared. Back in 1960 the Road Death Enquiry estimated that 2.5 million birds are killed annually on the roads in the UK 1 , a number which will have increased given the increase in both traffic and released gamebirds. Other barriers are more subtle – hedge-free fields of oilseed rape prevent much wildlife moving through them due to the hostility of the agrochemically-saturated land and the absence of routes that might act as highways. 2 This fragmentation must be addressed by using an asset already in place. Our landscape is crossed by a linescape – a series of linear features that, if managed properly, can provide essential corridors for wildlife. Hedgerows are often what we think of when we turn our minds to the British countryside. They are fabulously biodiverse habitats: a recent survey showed that just 85 metres of a Devon hedge had over 2,000 different species. 3 The value of these hedgerows is elevated by the ‘standard’ trees that emerge from them. Unfortunately, these trees are alarmingly similar in age and when they die or are removed, flailing prevents new trees replacing them. 4 Tree-lines and standard trees are vital in urban habitats too. The management of these life-giving presences must be ecologically considerate. Hedgerows are wildlife arteries. But they are not alone in providing wildlife with a way to move through the landscape. Tragically, given the parlous state of our farmed landscape, the verges of the road network have also become a valuable resource for wildlife: the ‘unofficial countryside’, in Richard Mabey’s famous phrase. Plantlife have revealed that they are now home to over 700 species of flowering plant and that in turn have become important corridors for invertebrates and larders for vertebrates. 5

HUGH WARWICK, AUTHOR & ECOLOGIST

References:
1.
Hodson, N. L., & Snow, D. W. (1965). The Road Deaths Enquiry, 1960–61. Bird Study, 12(2), 90–99
2. Marshall, E. J. ., & Moonen, A. . (2002). Field margins in northern Europe: their functions and interactions with agriculture. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 89(1-2), 5–21.
3. Wolton, R. (2015) Life in a hedge.
British Wildlife, June [Online]. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Robert_Wolton/publication/282237797_Life_in_a_hedge/links/59d6a0b4aca27213df9e82a8/Life-in-a-hedge.pdf(Accessed 11/09/2018)
4. Hedgelink UK. About hedgerows [Online]. Available at:
http://www.hedgelink.org.uk/index.php?page=16 (Accessed 11/09/2018)
5. Plantlife (2017) Road verges: Last refuge for some of our rarest wild flowers and plants. April [Online].
Available at:
http://www.plantlife.org.uk/application/files/4514/9261/2387/Road_verges_report_19_April_FINAL.pdf
(Accessed 11/09/2018)