“Hedgerows are an integral part of the English countryside,” says Emma Marrington, the senior policy campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). “They are the patchwork quilts of our countryside.” 
 
Hedgerows—rows of shrubs or trees planted as boundary lines—share many qualities with a comfortable quilt. They offer warmth, protection and a place to nest for a wide range of species: butterflies, bats, birds, hedgehogs, and dormice. 
 
The CPRE, a London-based organization dedicated to keeping the English countryside a thriving place, has noted the many ways hedgerows have become essential to plant and animal species in England. 
 
“They have . . . a huge, huge benefit to the landscape and biodiversity,” Marrington says.
 
“Bumblebees, for example, they will shelter within the grass and bottom of hedgerows over winter,” Marrington says. “They are almost housing for nature I suppose.”
 
Bats, on the other hand, often use hedgerows for navigation
 
“They [hedgerows] are almost like the bat’s motorways,” Marrington says. “Instead of going across fields, they will follow the hedgerow line.”
 
The protected hazel dormouse utilizes hedgerows in a few ways. 
 
“They will hibernate [in hedgerows] over winter and emerge in spring, and spend a lot of time above ground in the trees and scrub,” Marrington says. “Then they start feeding on the [two prominent hedgerow plant species] blackthorn and hawthorn in April. They also use it as a dispersal corridor so it’s a link between small woodlands for foraging as well and for breeding populations too.”
 
Historic Hedges
 
Emily Ledder, Natural England’s lead adviser on biodiversity delivery, explains in an email why this distinct feature has been a part of England’s rural landscape for hundreds of years. 
 
“Hedgerows are lines of shrubs which were originally planted to mark ownership and provide a barrier to prevent the movement of stock such as sheep and cattle,” she says. “In the UK, many were planted as part of the Enclosures Acts in the early 19th century, however, many are much older than this. In Devon, for example, we believe that a quarter of our hedges are more than 800 years old. That’s older than many parish churches. And some are underlain by banks built in the Bronze Age times four thousand years ago. Others are older still, being remnants of the original wildwood that covered Britain and Ireland before man started to carve out his fields.”
 
Marrington says some hedgerows began to be ripped out of the English countryside in the mid-1900s. 
 
“During the Second World War, a lot of hedgerows were taken up so that you had large fields where you could actually grow food and resources to help feed the people and feed the nation,” she says.
 
Since the 1970s, CPRE had lobbied to pass legislation that would protect hedgerows if they were historic or provided habitat for a large amount of plants and animals. Regulation for a majority of countryside hedgerows became law in 1997. 
 
“If a landowner was going to remove that hedge, they would have to apply to a local council for permission to remove that hedgerow,” Marrington says.
 
The law doesn’t protect all hedgerows, however. 
 
“If it’s a younger hedgerow, say under 30 years old, and it is shorter than 20 meters [66 feet] long as well, then it doesn’t come under hedgerow regulation,” Marrington says.
 
Ledder notes how hedgerows are important to more than plant and animal species. “Today, predominately due to the invention of barbed wire, they are no longer able to fulfill their original function as a stock-proof barrier,” she says. “However, hedgerows and their associated trees, banks, ditches and margins provide a wide range of valuable services that benefit people. They include not only biodiversity services, but also regulating services such as landscape aesthetics and historical heritage, and provisioning services such as firewood and food.”
 
Carbon Capture
 
Hedgerows can also assist in the fight against climate change. Each kilometer of a new hedgerow has the capacity to store 600 to 800 kilograms [1,323 to 1,764 pounds] of carbon dioxide per year for up to 20 years. 
 
“They store carbon and provide firewood as well, which is a renewable fuel,” Marrington says.
 
The lines of hedgerows drawn all over the English countryside have given people like Marrington something else for hundreds of years: peace of mind. 
 
“I certainly find when you see a really good hedgerow—really sort of bushy with loads of flowers—it is really peaceful,” she says.
 
Marrington suggests downloading the CPRE’s “A Little Rough Guide around the Hedges” and then utilizing it for a greater appreciation of hedgerows when visiting the English countryside. 
 
“Try to identify different plant species within it,” she says. “Just get engaged and look at the bottom of a hedgerow and start pulling back a bit of grass to see what insects and creatures are within a hedgerow.”
Hedges of Biodiversity
Hedgerows are the historic "patchwork quilts of the English countryside."
Historic Hedge
Judith’s Hedge in Cambridgeshire is estimated to be more than 900 years old.
Hills of Hedges
Devon, a hilly county in southwest England, is known for its rich hedgerows. Devon’s hedges allegedly stretch close to 53,100 kilometers (33,000 miles).
adviser
Noun

person who offers informed advice about an issue.

aesthetics
Noun

study of beauty.

bank
Noun

a slope of land adjoining a body of water, or a large elevated area of the sea floor.

barbed wire
Noun

twisted metal with sharpened points, often used for fences.

barrier
Noun

obstacle or object that prevents movement.

benefit
Verb

to be helpful or useful.

Noun

all the different kinds of living organisms within a given area.

Noun

line separating geographical areas.

breed
Verb

to produce offspring.

Bronze Age
Noun

time period between the Stone Age and the Iron Age. The Bronze Age lasted between 3000 BCE and 500 BCE.

cattle
Noun

cows and oxen.

Noun

gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet.

council
Noun

group of people selected to act in an advisory, administrative, or legislative capacity.

disperse
Verb

to scatter or spread out widely.

distinct
Adjective

unique or identifiable.

emerge
Verb

to develop or come into view.

essential
Adjective

needed.

Noun

material, usually of plant or animal origin, that living organisms use to obtain nutrients.

forage
Verb

to search for food or other needs.

fuel
Noun

material that provides power or energy.

function
Verb

to work or work correctly.

Noun

environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

hedgerow
Noun

line of bushes and trees forming a boundary.

heritage
Noun

cultural or family background.

hibernate
Verb

to reduce activity almost to sleeping in order to conserve food and energy, usually in winter.

integral
Adjective

very important.

Noun

the geographic features of a region.

legislation
Noun

law, legal act, or statute.

livestock
noun, plural noun

animals raised for sale and profit.

lobby
Verb

to try to influence the action of government or other authority.

margin
Noun

border or edge.

motorway
Noun

British highway, or road for fast-moving traffic.

Noun

art and science of determining an object's position, course, and distance traveled.

parish
Noun

subdivision of a church diocese, having its own church and member of the clergy.

permission
Noun

authorization to do something.

policy
Noun

set of actions or rules.

population
Noun

total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

predominately
Adverb

strongly or overruling.

prominent
Adjective

important or standing out.

protect
Verb

to take action to prevent injury or attack.

provision
Noun

materials necessary to complete a task, such as food or tools.

quilt
Noun

coverlet made of two layers of fabric with a soft material between, decoratively stitched together.

regulation
Noun

rule or law.

remnant
Noun

something that is left over.

renew
Verb

to restore or begin again.

resource
Noun

available supply of materials, goods, or services. Resources can be natural or human.

rural
Adjective

having to do with country life, or areas with few residents.

scrub
Noun

area of arid grassland covered with low-lying trees and bushes.

shelter
Noun

structure that protects people or other organisms from weather and other dangers.

shrub
Noun

type of plant, smaller than a tree but having woody branches.

thrive
Verb

to develop and be successful.

utilize
Verb

to use.

Noun

land covered with trees, usually less dense than a forest.