Loss of hedgerows

Since World War II, hedgerows have been removed at a much faster rate than they have been planted. In some parts of the country 50% of hedgerows have gone, while others are so badly managed that their value to wildlife is much reduced.

Loss of hedgerows has been identified as a factor in the decline of many plant and animal species traditionally associated with farmland.
Reasons for hedge loss include changes in farming practices, development, damage caused by straw and stubble burning (banned since 1992), spray drift, neglect and indiscriminate trimming.

An Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (ITE) survey of hedgerow changes revealed that between 1984 and 1990 hedgerow length in England had declined by 20% and in Wales by 25%. While outright removal of hedgerows accounted for 9,500 km per year, almost half of the loss was a result of lack of management.

'Between 1990 and 1993, the rate of planting at 4,400 km per year exceeded the rate of removal... Unfortunately, there was a net decrease in hedgerow length of 18,000 km per annum'


Between 1990 and 1993, the removal of hedgerows lessened to about 3,600 km per year, and the rate of planting at 4,400 km per year exceeded the rate of removal. As a result of hedgerow incentive schemes, many farms had begun work to restore and manage hedgerows and other boundary features.

Unfortunately, there was a net decrease in hedgerow length of 18,000 km per annum in England and Wales during this period. This was at least partly due to a lack of management, leading to hedges being reclassified as lines of trees or gappy shrubs. These relict hedgerows, although registered as lost in the survey, are still of value to birds and other wildlife.

These losses of managed hedges appear to have been halted in the mid-1990s. This is welcome news. Although the net length of hedges now appears stable or possibly increasing, however, it is important to remember that newly-created or restored hedges may not have the same value in terms of wildlife, landscape and historical significance as long-established hedgerows.

Some hedgerows are so important that no amount of planting could replace them. The government has brought in legislation to protect hedgerows of key importance (currently in England and Wales only)

Wink's Meadow a local nature reserve

Wink's Meadow is a small field on the Suffolk Claylands, which has survived the building of a Second World War bomber airfield and the removal of its hedgrows to make large fields for modern agricultural machinery. The Frog orchid,which is found there, is an emblem of it the rarity of unimproved, short grassland preferring chalky soils. In suitable locations such as old horse pastures and on the edge of quarries it was once reasonably common in Suffolk, but many of its favoured sites were ploughed when tractors took over from horse power. By the 1980’s it was thought to be extinct in the county, but it was rediscovered at Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s local nature reserve in the 1990’s.

Metfield Air Field: Wink's Meadow is the upper left green rectangle, accesible from the road from Metfield Garage

Winks meadow is believed to be the only location for frog orchid in Suffolk, but it certainly seems to thrive here with a record number of 47 spikes reported in summer 2010.

The frog orchid is green in colour, which in combination with its small stature makes this species a difficult plant to find. However, if you are lucky enough to catch it in flower (usually late May/early June) you will see that the flowers live up to its name – resembling small frogs on the stem. In common with other orchids the flowering of frog orchids is uncertain and may vary from year to year.

Winks meadow is traditionally managed, either by being cut for hay and aftermath grazed, or summer cattle grazed. This traditional management is essential to maintain the short, thatch free sward that frog orchid prefers, but also the other wildflowers that occur at Winks meadow – including green-winged orchids, sulphur clover, early purple orchids, twayblade and cowslip.

The meadow is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its flora and is managed under a Natural England Environmental Stewardship Agreement which helps to fund annual work such as the hay cut and rotational management of the hedges.

Situated on the plateau water shed between the rivers Blyth and Waveny, It is a lonely 'thin' place where it is possible to contemplate the decline in the abundance wildlife that was once commonly found all over the county. The remains of the concrete runways of the former US airbase, named Metfield after the nearest village, with local memorials of airmen who lost their lives during the war, provides another aspect for contemplation


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Metfield Airfield