Restoring city canal hedgerows

Jennie Kelly and Frank Stott work on Ripon Canal hedges - SH10012101a - Picture by Simon Hulme
Jennie Kelly and Frank Stott work on Ripon Canal hedges - SH10012101a - Picture by Simon Hulme

A project to restore canalside hedgerows along Ripon Canal is under way by the Canal and River Trust and its volunteers.

The project is a national initiative to stop the decline of hedgerows on canal paths, whose coverage has fallen by half since the Second World War.

A group of volunteers have been learning the traditional skill of hedge laying so they can start filling in gaps between hedgerows and help connect important habitats.

Claire McDonald, volunteer co-ordinator for the Canal and River Trust, said: “Once lost it takes years to re-establish a new hedge but thanks to this support from the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, we’ll be able to run hedge laying and planting days with our volunteers along the region’s waterways and begin to reinvigorate our canal side hedgerows.

“Hedgerows are more than just important features in the landscape, they are lifelines for some of our most threatened wildlife.”

The decline in canalside hedgerows was revealed in a 600-mile nationwide survey, made possible by £50,000 funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, which was the biggest health check of the nation’s waterside hedgerows and identified ways that they could be improved as lifelines for wildlife.

The survey revealed that over half the hedgerows across the country were in good condition and 25 per cent of hedges recorded were thought to be under 10-years-old, showing good progress in recent years.

Hawthorn was found to be the most common hedge species along with ash, blackthorn, elder and hazel.

Jonathan Hart-Woods, environment manager for the Canal and River Trust, added: “The growing threat of habitat loss has meant that many of Britain’s most at risk species, including dormice and water voles, as well as farmland birds such as blackbirds, thrushes and tree sparrows will all benefit from establishing new hedgerow corridors.”

Many stretches of canalside hedgerow are over 200-years-old and are the canals’ oldest established habitat.

They would originally have been planted by 18th century canal builders to protect the towpath from cattle and other livestock.

However, changes to farming practices in the UK saw traditional hedges removed or replaced with barbed wire fences.