On the Wing by Gary Atkins

on the wing
on the wing

It occurred to me on a lengthy walk the other day that every time I got near a hedgerow or, doubly so, meandered down a track closely bordered by two hedgerows, someone turned the volume up on the bird song.

They clearly like spending time there – and the more unruly the hedgerow the better, it seems.

Not that surprising really, since an impenetrable mass of often thorny twigs and branches provides an excellent place to build a home – with sturdy foundations for nest-building, plus plenty of nearby perches on which to sit comfortably and have a natter with your neighbours (as my home flock of House Sparrows are forever demonstrating).

Hedgerows also represent a safe haven from most predators both on the ground and those stealthy hunters on the wing such as Sparrowhawks. They can also provide shelter from the worst of the weather, snuggling together where the snow cannot quite reach, or taking refuge behind the screen of vegetation when rain falls in torrents of when it’s particularly windy.

Put simply, hedgerows as a natural feature of the countryside are very important for birds, yet a sizeable proportion of them were eradicated as the trend to rapid intensification of farming targeted higher crop yields. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in a detrimental effect on many farmland species during the second half of the 20th century.

Thanks in part to stewardship schemes and grants allowing farmers to adopt more wildlife-friendly practices, hedgerows and the birds they host are making a bit of a comeback, while wider field margins and set-aside fields are also helping ground-nesting birds that have seen their habitats shrinking ... but there is still a long way to go.

We can also help in our manicured town and village gardens by retaining small corners where wild flowers and grasses grow unhindered, developing perimeters of traditional bushes and shrubs, and allowing trees to grow larger. If you are able to do at least some of that, the birds will love you.

They love me – my garden’s a mess! I also provide food all year (so they get used to seeing there’s something available even when insects, seeds and berries are not) and ensure the feeders are suspended high in a tree to avoid ground-level attack from predators and with access to a dense corridor of shrubs leading to the well-established hawthorn and leylandii hedges they evidently nest in.

The reward is an ever-present large contingent of House Sparrows, and regular visits from Nuthatches, Dunnocks, Robins, Starlings, Coal, Blue, Great and Long-tail Tits and even nervous Collared Doves and Woodpigeonss.