Hedge management for nesting birds

By Chris Stoate, Head of Research, Allerton Project

The British lowland countryside is characterised by a network of hedges, a much valued component of our cultural landscape and a nesting habitat for countless birds. Together with RSPB partners, we recently published a paper on the effects of hedgerow structure on the nesting success of these birds.

Hedge Management For Nesting Birds

Our previous research at Loddington revealed that controlling crows and magpies had a beneficial effect on nesting success and subsequent breeding numbers of some species, and also that nesting success was influenced by the structure of the habitat in which nests were located.

As management of many hedges has been neglected in recent years, resulting in a more open structure, this could leave nesting birds more susceptible to predation than in the past. Our monitoring of 399 nests over two years revealed that birds were choosing the denser parts of hedges in which to nest.

Nest survival was higher in hedges that had been cut within the past three or four years, than more recently (in the previous year), and nests fared better in mechanically trimmed hedges than in recently laid or neglected leggy ones.

This is encouraging. While we have shown that the control of crows and magpies can have an important role to play in songbird conservation where landscape characteristics support high numbers of these species, our recent research shows that hedgerow management can also help to improve songbird breeding success on farmland.

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Answer for David Briggs

at 10:25 on 02/11/2016 by Matt Dodds

Hi David. In answer to your question on frequency of cut on nest and nestling survival the study states: 'There was a statistically weak effect of time since last cut on egg stage DFR (Table 6) with nests in recently cut hedgerows experiencing higher failure rates (nest failure over the 13-day chick period was 0.693 in hedgerows cut during the preceding year compared to 0.237 in hedgerows cut 4 years previously'.

Wildlife Hedgelaying

at 9:45 on 02/11/2016 by Matt Dodds

For many years I have been promoting a technique termed 'Wildlife Hedgelaying' which creates a dense structure and retains both berries and blossom in the following year. Details can be found in; Conservation Evidence (2005) 2, 55-56 and Biological Conservation 186 (2015) 187–196. The technique was adopted by the RSPB at their Otmoor reserve and was the subject of an MSc. dissertation (A. Halcro-Johnston 2008) which showed that it had a beneficial effect on bird territories, but chick and nest survival were not tested. I would be very interested to see the GWCT conduct some more trials into the technique in comparison with flailing. If you are interested please drop me a line. Matt.dodds@hmwt.org

Hedges for Birds Nests

at 8:43 on 02/11/2016 by Desmond Gunner

Agreed that Crows and Magpies are a major factor in nesting success. Was any investigation done regarding whether hedges without trees were any better than those with? Trees privide perfect perching sites for predators to observe the activities of nesting birds, enabling them to rest in camoflage, whereas thay have to patrol treeless hedges on the wing and nesting birds know when they are close and keep under cover, or leave the nest before they arrive.

3 year rotation cutting

at 16:50 on 01/11/2016 by David Briggs

As it seems I do not have access to the full report, I would be very interested to know whether this paper demonstrates any advantage of 3-year cutting. I believe that traditional every-year trimming produces a much denser hedge that protects songbirds better. Their feed requirement can be provided by a few hawthorn (et al) trees that are never cut. Chris Stoate, will you please comment before the 3-year rotation practice becomes a requirement of any post-Brexit environment policy? Thanks


at 12:51 on 01/11/2016 by Mike Kettlewell

A useful study to show that cutting hedges in 3 year rotation and controlling Magpies and Crows increases breeding success of small farmland birds. Their subsequent survival over winter to the breed the following year will very much depend on an adequate food supply

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