Hedging our bets

© Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
© Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Further to my earlier blog about hedge-cutting dates – it seems that I was foolish not to follow my erstwhile rule of thumb which is that if the NFU says something then it is likely to be wrong.

My attention has been drawn (by my olders and betters – though not by the author of the paper itself) to the 17-year-old paper of Prof Ian Newton FRS which used data from his studies of Bullfinches around Oxford in the 1960s (An alternative approach to the measurement of seasonal trends in bird breeding success: a case study of the bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula. Journal of Animal Ecology 1999
68: 698-707).

The last young Bullfinches left their nests in late September or even in early October. Moreover, late-fledged Bullfinches accounted for a substantial proportion of Bullfinches fledged, and the most productive Bullfinch breeding seasons were those with the highest proportions of late-fledging birds. Well, there you go, I didn’t know that.  That surprises me, although the thing that doesn’t surprise me is that the great Ian Newton found this out.

And so it seems that cutting hedges in August would be bad news for the Bullfinch. Indeed, cutting hedges in September looks like it would be pretty bad news too. We can now look forward to the new Secretary of State for Defra showing her contempt for Brussels bureaucrats, who clearly never get out into the countryside, and setting the cutting date for hedges to 1 October rather than the current 1 September and certainly not the 1 August demanded by our custodians of the countryside.




19 Replies to “Hedging our bets”

  1. Mark

    Interesting point there and very useful paper. Worth circulating round CIEEM members.

    Returning to the article,the NFU are apparently claiming that any bird as dependent young in August won’t make it through the winter. Apart from utter nonsense…; no can’t think of an alternative to add to this sentence.

    I actually wonder if this is an exercise in testing how malleable Andrea Leadsom is. If she believes this nonsense, maybe she’ll believe anything?


    1. She believed she could become PM, so yeah she’ll believe pretty much anything as long as it is in a way that flatters her ego enough.

  2. And this is before we give any thought to the winter value of hedges as a food crop resource (eg haws) and shelter. Trim in rotation rather than annually? And trim late winter rather than autumn? Long I remember a conversation with the late Maurice Waterhouse of the RSPB Coombes Valley reserve about this – and unusually for Maurice he left the question hanging!
    Leek, Staffordshire

  3. The further north you go the later the nesting and if there are second broods?
    August is definitely too early for hedge cutting in Scotland, in my opinion.

  4. That reference is completely new to me. Many thanks.
    It goes some way to explain the late singing and calling round here in the daily song transects which are done throughout the year.

    No, I’m not surprised either that this an Ian Newton discovery.
    And trust, the Bullfinch too – highly strung, not very well hung, but highly faithful. (The bird has very small testes.)

    Which proves two things:
    Size isn’t everything.
    The NFU is wrong once again.

    1. Natural England know as much about nature as any property developer / hedge fund manager would be expected to know. It is no longer a repository of science and knowledge: it exists to rubber stamp government policy with a thin veneer of cod-science. Have you not noticed the badger cull?

    2. Dislike, gosh – the statement is a fact available on t’internet!

      No assessment or judgement offered, just their statement.

      1. Perhaps I should add, as an agnostic, that I think they (NE) are now a spent force for safeguarding biodiversity, but also that I’m sure (or maybe just think that) there are some good staff hanging on in there trying to do their bit.

        As someone commented earlier they have become a rubber stamp – so would public benefit be better served by using that budget elsewhere?

        Now for sure NE staff / supporters will hit the dislike buttons ….

  5. Birds nesting in hedges here in Derbyshire, was watching blackbird collecting material yesterday. Dunnocks, green finches, bull finches and house sparrows and house martins all have active nests in our garden. The nesting season is much later even this far North. I notice it every year.

    1. It’s the same here in North Wales, birds are still nesting and raising young. Lots of birds still carrying nesting material. The blackbirds in Mark’s garden that he tweeted about and mentioned here had fledged young before ours had even started to build their nest! Maybe there should be a rolling date for hedge trimming so northern areas are left later?

      1. ‘Maybe there should be a rolling date for hedge trimming so northern areas are left later?’

        The available window is tight enough as it is in the north and parts of the west midlands. On heavy clay soils or medium loams soils in high rainfall areas winter cutting is often just not practical without causing a lot of soil damage and it’s not great for the hedge to have the base compacted.

  6. During the last 3 years 10-15% of the c110 national Yellowhammer nest records have originated from a 30ha. arable study site south of York. Currently 4 pairs are incubating and if the hedges were cut in early August the eggs or young would be lost. Fortunately, the farmer cuts these hedges during the late winter.

  7. Hmmm… I might have to write to my MP on this issue myself – though I don’t expect any reasonable kind of answer… Dear Ms Leadsom…

      1. Agree with you Mark that Alexandra should write but from experience letters even when sent through your MP because direct ones are oft ignored fare little better.

        But, ever an agnostic and one who believes they (parliament) should be held accountable for their actions and sent regular doses of ‘encouragement’.

  8. The problem seems to be that many hedge owners are not seeing their hedge as a resource, traditionally hedges were laid or cut after foliage has gone and berries/nuts etc have been harvested.By going down the all neat and tidy cutting early route these benefits I.e. products of a hedge are lost.In terms of area payments unfortunately there seems to be very few cases where farmers have their benefits withheld due to non compliance, this means there is no incentive or recognition for those who cut hedges at the best time of year for wildlife.Certainly I have seen hedges cut during August in S.Devon.Surely if you cut in August hedge will never produce any fruits whereas late winter Feb? would be good for wildlife and is perhaps a quieter time of year on the farming calendar.

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