The common hedgerow is a very valuable part of Ireland’s cultural and natural heritage, and most of the approach roads to Newbridge have thriving hedgerows. Hedges were initially used as animal enclosures in early Christian times; later in the 18th century hedgerows were planted to enclose fields or landholdings. The more native species of trees, shrubs and ground flora in a hedgerow, the more wildlife the hedgerow will contain.
Hedgerows are protected by law specifically The Wildlife (Amendment) Act, 2000, Section 46 states that “It shall be an offence for a person to cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy, during the period beginning on the 1st day of March and ending on the 31st day of August in any year, any vegetation growing on any land not then cultivated.” It also stipulates that “It shall be an offence for a person to cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy any vegetation growing in any hedge or ditch during the period mentioned”.
However there are exceptions to the legislation – among them works carried out by Councils etc. being carried out “for reasons of public health or safety”, other exceptions are noted in the Acts e.g. “for the purpose of extinguishing or preventing the spread of a fire while it was in progress or for the purpose of saving human life”
Unfortunately when modern (larger) machinery was introduced into farming, many of the old hedgerows were removed and dug out towards the end of the 20th century, this created larger fields which make farming more efficient and cost effective but removed a wildlife corridor which in many cases existed for centuries.
Older hedgerows made up of native trees and shrubs, with banks / ditches (where they still exist) have a very significant wildlife value, hedgerows whether old or of more recent construction are corridors for the movement of wildlife, provide nesting areas and seed banks and if well managed will continue to regenerate and survive. But hedges can also be damaged through neglect and mismanagement.
Why do we need to protect hedgerows?
They are the most common ‘wildlife area’ providing a natural habitat in both rural and urban landscapes.
- They are an attractive natural feature, and add to the appearance of the landscape;
- They are an essential wildlife corridor, nesting place, and an area for animals to borough in;
- Wildflowers will thrive in hedgerows where chemical weed controls are not used;
- They provide cover butterflies, ladybirds, bats, hedgehogs, and support insects, grubs – ideal foodstuffs for birds;
- They can support a wide range of edible fruits Blackberries, Crab apples, Damson, Sloe, Elderberry, hazel nuts etc. – ensure you check which fruits are safe to eat!;
However hedgerows need maintenance to ensure that they regenerate and can continue to provide a wildlife corridor. They can be cut every third year, more regular trimming stunts flowering and berry production and thus can reduce food available for birds and insects. If repairing a hedgerow use native trees and shrubs as they are more important for wildlife, but leave dead-wood in situ, as it is essential for many insects and fungi. Do not use weed-killer, and ensure that pesticides and fertilisers are kept away from the base of the hedge, however you should remove invasive species i.e. Rhododendron, giant hogweed and Japanese knotweed.
Consider planting a new hedgerow, the purpose could be for colour, for flowering and wildlife use. But first survey what is growing in nearby hedges as what grows well there will generally grow well in the general location. Always plant native Irish species of tree or shrub, use native seed for wildflowers, consider Whitethorn, Blackthorn, Holly, Guelder Rose, Hazel, Ash, Oak, Willow, Wild Cherry etc.
Rural style hedgerows are evident almost immediately on leaving the town, particularly on the Milltown Road (past the Station), the Green Road, the Athgarvan Road, and on the Kildare Road at Ballymany. We hope that hedgerows such as these will continue to be a feature of the town despite the prospect of future development projects. Within the town’s urban area hedgerows are apparent along the Liffey, in the Liffey Linear Park and at boundary points between some residential estates.
Kildare County Council Hedgerow Page provides advice on Conserving, Rejuvenation, Trimming of Hedgerows and also on Planting New Hedgerows.