Cornish Hedges

Davidstow hedge by Bob Wyatt

Cornish hedges, in their many guises, have been an intrinsic part of Cornwall’s landscape for thousands of years, and shaped the way wildlife has adapted and lived alongside us.

Understanding the extent of the hedge network in Cornwall is vital to ensure their protection and sustainable management for years to come. With an estimated 30,000 miles of hedges in Cornwall creating a map of the entire network at county scale is a huge undertaking. Using advances in technology and satellite imagery, ERCCIS has identified hedge features across the Cornish landscape and mapped them.

The Cornish Hedge holds a wealth of importance in its construction and building it is still regarded a hugely valuable skill today. Built wide at the base, often with a verge or a ditch and narrow at the top and always with local materials, the Cornish hedge generally has a compacted soil middle with either stone or turf face with a grassy top that supports a shrubby hedgerow on top and often trees including oak, ash, sycamore or elm.

First created to enclose and protect farmsteads since our county was first settled, they still very much fulfil their original purposes of marking boundaries between landowners, being a valuable source of sustainable timber and firewood, enclosing grazing animals, providing shelter from the wind, rain, sun and all the worst of the south-wests variable weather. Less obviously, but as importantly, they intercept heavy downpours to help prevent flooding and soil erosion and they capture and filter fertilisers and pollutants and host pollinators vital to food production.

But hedges are important habitats in their own right supporting up to six hundred native species of plants and shrubs which in turn support a varied population of insects, mammals, and birds.

They link a network of habitats enabling otherwise isolated species to move freely among them. With ancient woodland habitats in decline, hedges provide sanctuary and act as wildlife corridors to areas that were once interlinked.

Understanding the extent of the hedge network in Cornwall is vital to ensure their protection and sustainable management for years to come. With an estimated 30,000 miles of hedges in Cornwall creating a map of the entire network at county scale is a huge undertaking. Using advances in technology and satellite imagery, with a staff of two and twenty volunteers ERCCIS has identified hedge features across the Cornish landscape and mapped them in a project that took 20 months to complete.

The map will provide a wealth of information for research, conservation and sustainable management of our wildlife and habitats. It will give us an understanding about how different species use habitats and interact with the wider landscape. We can investigate how connected and interconnected these areas are in the hope that future management plans will help protect isolated populations. The map therefore will be of great value to landowners, researchers and professionals.

Our Cornish hedges are the veins of Cornwall and we want to do all we can to keep the heart beating and healthy.
 

Further information here