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Katty Bird on Hedgerow

PUBLISHED: 16:45 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:59 20 February 2013

Blackthorne

Blackthorne

Hedgerows are vital places for wildlife, providing food, shelter and safe 'corridors'.<br/><br/>By Katty Baird, volunteer for the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT)

The month of May conjures up images of warm relaxing days, buzzing with insect life and filled with the fragrance of new flowers. It kicks off with May Day on the 1st, traditionally a day of pagan celebration symbolising the cycle of the year and the return of summer. Throughout the countryside there are signs that the winter blues are over and the warm welcoming days of summer are just around the corner. By now our hedgerows are well and truly humming with life - bird nesting activity is at its peak, hidden from view by the rapid growth of fresh green leaves, and showy white blossoms attract a wealth of nectar-seeking insects. Hedgerows are vital places for local wildlife, providing them with food, shelter and safe 'corridors' to travel between now fragmented habitats. May is a great time to get outside and enjoy the many delights they have to offer from humble hedgehogs to brightly-coloured butterflies. And Katty Baird, volunteer for the local Wildlife Trust, takes us on a tour of the hedgerow...

To find out more about BBOWT's nature reserves, volunteering and events, please visit www.bbowt.org.uk or call 01865 775476. Why not join us today? - your support makes all the difference for wildlife. Members of the Trust receive our events diary, a high quality magazine, and a detailed and beautiful book about the Trust's 80 nature reserves.


Blackthorn

Yellowhammer

Dog rose

Hedgehog

Hawthorn

Brimstone

Appearance

Blackthorn is a deciduous, thorny shrub or small tree, often forming dense thickets. The white flowers emerge before the leaves (unlike with hawthorn) in March and April. The fruits or 'sloes' ripen in September. They are blue-black in colour with an extremely bitter, green flesh.

The yellowhammer is one of the brightest coloured of our native birds and can be seen singing from the tops of hedgerows. Males have a bright yellow head and underparts, a brown back streaked with black, and a chestnut rump. In flight they display white outer tail feathers. Females and juveniles are generally duller in colour.

The dog rose is a deciduous climbing shrub with strong arching (and very thorny) branches. The flowers are white or pink with a delicate fragrance and appear in June. They are followed by a terrific show of bright red fruit (rosehips), from August to November.

The hedgehog is Britain's only spiny mammal. The upper parts of the head and body are covered in short, yellow-tipped spines and adults may have up to 5000 spines. The rest of the body is covered with brown fur, and they have a short tail. Hedgehogs can be quite noisy and may be heard snuffling and grunting during their foraging activities.

In hedges, hawthorn is familiar as a dense thorny shrub, but if it is allowed to grow freely it will form a bushy topped tree 8-12 metres high. The young trees have a smooth light grey bark, which becomes browner as they get older. The leaves have dark glossy green uppersides and are variable in shape with three, five or seven deep lobes.

The brimstone is a common butterfly and often the first to appear in spring. The males are bright, sulphur yellow in colour. But the females are more greenish-white, with an orange spot in the centre of each wing. The undersides of the wings are greenish, with prominent veins. The caterpillar has a green body with black flecks.

Habitat

Blackthorn thickets offer wonderfully protective shelter for birds to build their nests; blackbird, song thrush, finches and whitethroat are among the more common users. Birds also benefit from the berries and insects associated with the tree. . The scented blossom provides nectar for bumblebees and early-flying small tortoiseshell butterflies. The leaves provide food for the larvae of the threatened black and brown hairstreak butterflies.

In winter, yellowhammers form flocks and feed mainly on cereals and grass seeds in fields. But in the spring they turn to the hedgerows for a safe place for nesting. Breeding usually starts in April. The male pursues his prospective mate in a rapid, twisting courtship flight. The bulky grass nest is constructed by the female and situated low down in a thick bush or on the ground. The young are fed mainly insects by both parents.

The dog rose is common along woodland edges, hedgerows and chalk downlands. Once the flower of the dog rose has been fertilised, the 'hip' grows around the seed, turning a luscious red colour - nature's way of baiting birds to eat it and spread the seed. Many birds and small mammals take advantage of this feast including thrushes, finches, mice and bank voles. The dog rose is host to many insects including a gall-forming wasp which produces balls of crimson fluff called 'Robin's pin cushions' on the leaf stalks.

Hedgehogs can be found all kinds of habitats from your back garden to the local hedgerow - one of their favourite hiding places! Hedgehogs are solitary, non-territorial animals, mainly active by night. They spend the winter months in hibernation in nests typically situated under hedgerows. During this time their body temperature and heart beat fall dramatically, from 190 to about 20 beats per minute. Females produce one or two litters a year of about five young.

Hawthorn is a deciduous tree common along hedgrows and in woodlands, It comes into leaf in March. The distinctive white blossom with its strong scent appears in May, giving rise to the name 'May tree'. Fruit starts to form in July and August and the red berries, called haws, ripen in October and November when the leaves also start to fall. Haws are attractive to birds and seeds are spread through bird droppings.

Brimstone caterpillars feed on buckthorn and alder buckthorn. Adults can be seen in many environments including hedgerows, meadows and gardens. Pairing in early spring is followed by a long courtship. After mating, the female lays pale green skittle-shaped eggs on buckthorn and alder buckthorn. The caterpillars hatch after a couple of weeks and, after about a month, pupate. The adults emerge in July and live for around a year, hibernating over winter.

Fact

The beautiful white blossom appears early in the year, often during a spell of very cold weather. These cold snaps are widely known as 'blackthorn winters' Blackthorn is one of the ancestors of our cultivated plums, and despite their bitter taste, the berries can be used as food from jellies and conserves to sloe gin. People used to bury sloes in straw-lined pits in the ground for several months to ripen the fruits and make them sweeter.

The name 'yellowhammer' is derived from the German word 'ammer', which means bunting. They have a distinctive call, which is said to sound like 'a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese'. The 'cheese' is usually drawn out and of varying pitch, though sometimes absent altogether. Yellowhammers have many other names including yellow bunting, yellow amber, yellow ring, scribble lark and scribbler, the last two arising from the distinctive 'scribble' patterns on their eggs.

The rosehip is not a true fruit, but is formed as the end of the stalk grows up round the central carpels, encasing them. The real fruits, each containing one seed, are the little hairy objects found within this case. Rosehips are extremely rich in vitamin C. In 1941, the Ministry of Health decided to organise a scheme in which thousands of volunteers, including school children, collected hundreds of tons of rosehips to make rosehip syrup and jam to supplement their war-time diets.

One strange hedgehog habit is known as 'self anointing'. When a hedgehog encounters a strong smell or taste it twists its head round and, using its tongue, covers its spines and fur in a frothy saliva - looking as though it is covered in soap bubbles! Why they do this remains unclear. There are a number of folk tales concerning hedgehogs too. One popular belief is that hedgehogs suck milk from cows. Although unlikely, hedgehogs are known to enjoy milk!

The thorns of hawthorn are actually spine-tipped side branches. Its spiny nature helps to protect hedge seedlings of other broad-leaved trees from nibblers. The blossom of hawthorn is known as 'May blossom' and was used for decorations and rites associated with May Day, a festival to welcome summer. Early in the morning people would go 'a-maying' to collect blossom to decorate their churches and houses, and girls would bathe their faces in hawthorn dew hoping it would make them beautiful.

It is thought by some that the word 'butterfly' is derived from 'butter-coloured fly', which could have originally referred to the brimstone. However, there is little agreement on this. Other theories state that the name refers to the butter-coloured faeces of butterflies or to a mediaeval myth that witches transformed themselves into butterflies in order to steal butter! Whichever idea you like, spot brimstones at BBOWT nature reserves in the Cotswolds and beyond. Find out more at www.bbowt.org.uk

Conservation

Blackthorn can be seen in the woodlands and hedges of the Cotswolds, including at BBOWT's Hook Norton Cutting (near Banbury) and Westwell Gorse (near Burford) nature reserves. It benefits from the traditional craft of hedgelaying which BBOWT undertakes. Looking after blackthorn helps the threatened brown and black hairstreak butterflies. The black hairstreak is now reduced to only 45 sites in England due to hedgerow removal.

The breeding population of the yellowhammer has declined by more than 50% over the last 25 years probably due to the availability of winter seed food reducing as agricultural practices change. The species is currently included on the Red List of birds of high conservation concern. It can be spotted at BBOWT's Lamb's Pool Nature Reserve (near Hook Norton) where work continues to look after the hedgerows and food supplies it, and other species, need.

Dog rose can be seen throughout the hedgerows of the Cotswolds. Proper management of habitats like these is important to encourage plenty of rosehips to supplement the diets of resident birds and mammals. BBOWT maintains hedgerows for wildlife by rotational cutting, coppicing and hedgelaying. Learn the art of hedgelaying yourself - watch out for future BBOWT courses at www.bbowt.org.uk

Surprisingly the humble hedgehog - a familiar and welcome sight to many gardeners - is in severe decline. Its plight was highlighted in 2007 as it was included in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (a set of actions to help wildlife) for the first time. You can help hedgehogs by providing piles of leaves or logs in your garden for hibernating hogs. To find out more about gardening for wildlife contact our Wildlife Information Service (Mon, 9-5pm) for a list of factsheets: wildinfo@bbowt.org.uk or 01865 788307

Hawthorn is common and widespread throughout Britain and can be found in many habitats. May blossom can be seen at BBOWT's Glyme Valley Nature Reserve (near Chipping Norton), which we look after through a programme of conservation work. Want to help out? Why not join us and become a volunteer? It's a great chance get out into the fresh air, see wildlife close up, make friends, learn new skills and help local wildlife. Visit www.bbowt.org.uk to find out more or call 01865 775476

The brimstone is an extremely mobile species and an individual may wander many miles from its emergence site, breeding with brimstones from other areas. BBOWT is working on a massive scale in many places to provide 'Living Landscapes', linking up fragmented pockets of habitat so that wildlife, like the brimstone, can move freely across the landscape and adapt to our changing climate. Find out more at www.bbowt.org.uk

The month of May conjures up images of warm relaxing days, buzzing with insect life and filled with the fragrance of new flowers. It kicks off with May Day on the 1st, traditionally a day of pagan celebration symbolising the cycle of the year and the return of summer. Throughout the countryside there are signs that the winter blues are over and the warm welcoming days of summer are just around the corner. By now our hedgerows are well and truly humming with life - bird nesting activity is at its peak, hidden from view by the rapid growth of fresh green leaves, and showy white blossoms attract a wealth of nectar-seeking insects. Hedgerows are vital places for local wildlife, providing them with food, shelter and safe 'corridors' to travel between now fragmented habitats. May is a great time to get outside and enjoy the many delights they have to offer from humble hedgehogs to brightly-coloured butterflies. And Katty Baird, volunteer for the local Wildlife Trust, takes us on a tour of the hedgerow...

To find out more about BBOWT's nature reserves, volunteering and events, please visit www.bbowt.org.uk or call 01865 775476. Why not join us today? - your support makes all the difference for wildlife. Members of the Trust receive our events diary, a high quality magazine, and a detailed and beautiful book about the Trust's 80 nature reserves.


Blackthorn

Yellowhammer

Dog rose

Hedgehog

Hawthorn

Brimstone

Appearance

Blackthorn is a deciduous, thorny shrub or small tree, often forming dense thickets. The white flowers emerge before the leaves (unlike with hawthorn) in March and April. The fruits or 'sloes' ripen in September. They are blue-black in colour with an extremely bitter, green flesh.

The yellowhammer is one of the brightest coloured of our native birds and can be seen singing from the tops of hedgerows. Males have a bright yellow head and underparts, a brown back streaked with black, and a chestnut rump. In flight they display white outer tail feathers. Females and juveniles are generally duller in colour.

The dog rose is a deciduous climbing shrub with strong arching (and very thorny) branches. The flowers are white or pink with a delicate fragrance and appear in June. They are followed by a terrific show of bright red fruit (rosehips), from August to November.

The hedgehog is Britain's only spiny mammal. The upper parts of the head and body are covered in short, yellow-tipped spines and adults may have up to 5000 spines. The rest of the body is covered with brown fur, and they have a short tail. Hedgehogs can be quite noisy and may be heard snuffling and grunting during their foraging activities.

In hedges, hawthorn is familiar as a dense thorny shrub, but if it is allowed to grow freely it will form a bushy topped tree 8-12 metres high. The young trees have a smooth light grey bark, which becomes browner as they get older. The leaves have dark glossy green uppersides and are variable in shape with three, five or seven deep lobes.

The brimstone is a common butterfly and often the first to appear in spring. The males are bright, sulphur yellow in colour. But the females are more greenish-white, with an orange spot in the centre of each wing. The undersides of the wings are greenish, with prominent veins. The caterpillar has a green body with black flecks.

Habitat

Blackthorn thickets offer wonderfully protective shelter for birds to build their nests; blackbird, song thrush, finches and whitethroat are among the more common users. Birds also benefit from the berries and insects associated with the tree. . The scented blossom provides nectar for bumblebees and early-flying small tortoiseshell butterflies. The leaves provide food for the larvae of the threatened black and brown hairstreak butterflies.

In winter, yellowhammers form flocks and feed mainly on cereals and grass seeds in fields. But in the spring they turn to the hedgerows for a safe place for nesting. Breeding usually starts in April. The male pursues his prospective mate in a rapid, twisting courtship flight. The bulky grass nest is constructed by the female and situated low down in a thick bush or on the ground. The young are fed mainly insects by both parents.

The dog rose is common along woodland edges, hedgerows and chalk downlands. Once the flower of the dog rose has been fertilised, the 'hip' grows around the seed, turning a luscious red colour - nature's way of baiting birds to eat it and spread the seed. Many birds and small mammals take advantage of this feast including thrushes, finches, mice and bank voles. The dog rose is host to many insects including a gall-forming wasp which produces balls of crimson fluff called 'Robin's pin cushions' on the leaf stalks.

Hedgehogs can be found all kinds of habitats from your back garden to the local hedgerow - one of their favourite hiding places! Hedgehogs are solitary, non-territorial animals, mainly active by night. They spend the winter months in hibernation in nests typically situated under hedgerows. During this time their body temperature and heart beat fall dramatically, from 190 to about 20 beats per minute. Females produce one or two litters a year of about five young.

Hawthorn is a deciduous tree common along hedgrows and in woodlands, It comes into leaf in March. The distinctive white blossom with its strong scent appears in May, giving rise to the name 'May tree'. Fruit starts to form in July and August and the red berries, called haws, ripen in October and November when the leaves also start to fall. Haws are attractive to birds and seeds are spread through bird droppings.

Brimstone caterpillars feed on buckthorn and alder buckthorn. Adults can be seen in many environments including hedgerows, meadows and gardens. Pairing in early spring is followed by a long courtship. After mating, the female lays pale green skittle-shaped eggs on buckthorn and alder buckthorn. The caterpillars hatch after a couple of weeks and, after about a month, pupate. The adults emerge in July and live for around a year, hibernating over winter.

Fact

The beautiful white blossom appears early in the year, often during a spell of very cold weather. These cold snaps are widely known as 'blackthorn winters' Blackthorn is one of the ancestors of our cultivated plums, and despite their bitter taste, the berries can be used as food from jellies and conserves to sloe gin. People used to bury sloes in straw-lined pits in the ground for several months to ripen the fruits and make them sweeter.

The name 'yellowhammer' is derived from the German word 'ammer', which means bunting. They have a distinctive call, which is said to sound like 'a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese'. The 'cheese' is usually drawn out and of varying pitch, though sometimes absent altogether. Yellowhammers have many other names including yellow bunting, yellow amber, yellow ring, scribble lark and scribbler, the last two arising from the distinctive 'scribble' patterns on their eggs.

The rosehip is not a true fruit, but is formed as the end of the stalk grows up round the central carpels, encasing them. The real fruits, each containing one seed, are the little hairy objects found within this case. Rosehips are extremely rich in vitamin C. In 1941, the Ministry of Health decided to organise a scheme in which thousands of volunteers, including school children, collected hundreds of tons of rosehips to make rosehip syrup and jam to supplement their war-time diets.

One strange hedgehog habit is known as 'self anointing'. When a hedgehog encounters a strong smell or taste it twists its head round and, using its tongue, covers its spines and fur in a frothy saliva - looking as though it is covered in soap bubbles! Why they do this remains unclear. There are a number of folk tales concerning hedgehogs too. One popular belief is that hedgehogs suck milk from cows. Although unlikely, hedgehogs are known to enjoy milk!

The thorns of hawthorn are actually spine-tipped side branches. Its spiny nature helps to protect hedge seedlings of other broad-leaved trees from nibblers. The blossom of hawthorn is known as 'May blossom' and was used for decorations and rites associated with May Day, a festival to welcome summer. Early in the morning people would go 'a-maying' to collect blossom to decorate their churches and houses, and girls would bathe their faces in hawthorn dew hoping it would make them beautiful.

It is thought by some that the word 'butterfly' is derived from 'butter-coloured fly', which could have originally referred to the brimstone. However, there is little agreement on this. Other theories state that the name refers to the butter-coloured faeces of butterflies or to a mediaeval myth that witches transformed themselves into butterflies in order to steal butter! Whichever idea you like, spot brimstones at BBOWT nature reserves in the Cotswolds and beyond. Find out more at www.bbowt.org.uk

Conservation

Blackthorn can be seen in the woodlands and hedges of the Cotswolds, including at BBOWT's Hook Norton Cutting (near Banbury) and Westwell Gorse (near Burford) nature reserves. It benefits from the traditional craft of hedgelaying which BBOWT undertakes. Looking after blackthorn helps the threatened brown and black hairstreak butterflies. The black hairstreak is now reduced to only 45 sites in England due to hedgerow removal.

The breeding population of the yellowhammer has declined by more than 50% over the last 25 years probably due to the availability of winter seed food reducing as agricultural practices change. The species is currently included on the Red List of birds of high conservation concern. It can be spotted at BBOWT's Lamb's Pool Nature Reserve (near Hook Norton) where work continues to look after the hedgerows and food supplies it, and other species, need.

Dog rose can be seen throughout the hedgerows of the Cotswolds. Proper management of habitats like these is important to encourage plenty of rosehips to supplement the diets of resident birds and mammals. BBOWT maintains hedgerows for wildlife by rotational cutting, coppicing and hedgelaying. Learn the art of hedgelaying yourself - watch out for future BBOWT courses at www.bbowt.org.uk

Surprisingly the humble hedgehog - a familiar and welcome sight to many gardeners - is in severe decline. Its plight was highlighted in 2007 as it was included in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (a set of actions to help wildlife) for the first time. You can help hedgehogs by providing piles of leaves or logs in your garden for hibernating hogs. To find out more about gardening for wildlife contact our Wildlife Information Service (Mon, 9-5pm) for a list of factsheets: wildinfo@bbowt.org.uk or 01865 788307

Hawthorn is common and widespread throughout Britain and can be found in many habitats. May blossom can be seen at BBOWT's Glyme Valley Nature Reserve (near Chipping Norton), which we look after through a programme of conservation work. Want to help out? Why not join us and become a volunteer? It's a great chance get out into the fresh air, see wildlife close up, make friends, learn new skills and help local wildlife. Visit www.bbowt.org.uk to find out more or call 01865 775476

The brimstone is an extremely mobile species and an individual may wander many miles from its emergence site, breeding with brimstones from other areas. BBOWT is working on a massive scale in many places to provide 'Living Landscapes', linking up fragmented pockets of habitat so that wildlife, like the brimstone, can move freely across the landscape and adapt to our changing climate. Find out more at www.bbowt.org.uk

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