Alton has two brand new hedgerows.

Hedges improve biodiversity sequester carbon and improve the environment but a huge number of them have been lost in the last 80 years.  So ACAN’s Lobbying and Campaigning group decided to do something about it.  Liaising with Alton Town Council, they identified two suitable sites – one at Will Hall Meadow, on the edge of the new Redrow development and one surrounding the children’s playground field above the Greenfields estate.  Both areas are public sites with a lot of potential for increasing biodiversity as hedges work best when animals can move freely between them.  Funding from local councillors and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England was secured, ‘I Dig Trees’ donated 750 free hedging plants and they were good to go.

And so on four weekend mornings of January and February, ACAN volunteers donned old clothes, gardening gloves and wellies, collected spades and forks from their garden sheds and turned up in their dozens to dig the ground and plant the trees. (The photo shows volunteers planting at the Greenfields site.)

The species – a variety of native hedging plants – were chosen with care.  Hawthorn formed about 40% overall, with blackthorn, field maple, dog rose, dogwood, hazel, bird cherry and alder making up the rest.  A mixed hedge is best for wildlife, providing shelter and food for many months. The plants were put in as a double-width hedge which will have a much greater impact and support more animal life. 

Project manager Scott Goldie (pictured digging at the Greenfields site) paid tribute to everyone who helped – Eleanor Hill of the Lobbying and Campaigning group, who had the original idea, Jenny Griffiths of ACAN who produced a flier and rallied the troops, Charles Kaye of Friends of the River Wey, Alton Town Council, especially Gareth Hurd who gave invaluable advice and will help maintain the hedges in the future, Penney Hames who undertook the tilling at Will Hall Meadow and all those gave up their time to plant.  He commented “They were all really successful events; a chance to meet other people, most of whom were local, and who were doing it for a variety of different reasons. Some wanted to give something back to the community whilst others were more concerned with the lack of biodiversity. It was brilliant to see people chatting and getting to know each other as they planted. We even had a couple of families take part! Eleanor brought her campervan and made tea and coffee which also went down very well.”

Primary school teacher turned wild-life gardener, Scott says he has always been in awe of the natural world and fascinated by the myriad of creatures that inhabit it.  “I’ve always found insects and other minibeasts particularly amazing because of their variety and often bizarre, almost alien appearance. But they really are crucial to life on our planet, the bedrock for all animals, and we need to give them our respect and acknowledge their importance.”

As to the value of this particular project, Scott explains: “As the hedge grows, it will sequester carbon, provide shade and reduce erosion. Hedges improve sites for people; hawthorn is beautiful when it flowers, and the increase in wildlife provides interest for people too, helping us make connections with nature. Hedgerows, particularly mixes of native plants, are fantastic for wildlife. They provide nesting sites for birds and shelter for small mammals and other creatures. Hawthorn alone can support three hundred different species of insect, making it one of the very best plants for improving biodiversity. Birds feast on the berries in the autumn, but dog rose, dogwood, bird cherry, hazel and blackthorn also all produce fruit which will feed wildlife. The sloes of blackthorn can be used to make sloe gin too!” (The picture shows the finished hedgerow at Will Hall Meadow.)

Looking to the future, Scott hopes that more sites will become available and welcomes suggestions.  “We’re looking for other sites in and around Alton where trees, hedgerows and other planting can be done to improve our town for us and the animals that we share it with.”

But until then, work will continue on these two sites as the trees still need to be mulched and then watered over the summer months, especially if we have another summer like last year’s!

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