A collaboration of coast and countryside organisations on The Lizard Peninsula

Reed-bunting-Jamie Macarthur

September is when hedges can legally be trimmed, but even so it’s really important to avoid the urge or habit to cut back and tidy too much –both in the wider countryside and in our gardens. It’s more beneficial for nature to leave some decaying plants intact, as they create a layer (often above soggy ground) for small mammals and insects to use in bad weather or as habitat for part of a creature’s lifecycle. Hollowed stems and seed heads provide cover from rain and frosts, tussocks of grass provide homes for spiders and mice. Piles of dead wood and heaps of leaves gathered into a pile in a corner will benefit insects and small mammals, including our struggling hedgehogs.
Hedgerows and banks are now studded with hawthorn berries, sloes, blackberries and other fruit – or are they? The sheer beauty of a Cornish hedgebank bursting with berries at this time of year is surely enough reason to keep the flail in the shed. Given trees like hawthorn fruit on past season’s growth, annual hedge trimming, as is increasingly the norm, takes away the possibility of the trees fruiting at all and providing sustenance to both our resident birds and all those winter thrushes that flock to Cornwall each autumn and winter. Cutting hedges and banks on a three or four year rotation and not all in the same year means there will always be fruit and cover – and beauty.

Lower Tresmorn - C Mucklow
Stubble fields, where land is left over winter instead of being ploughed immediately after harvesting cereals like barley, can be fantastic for wildlife as the native plants start to come back and birds such as skylark feed on their leaves and seeds. Often stubble fields support huge flocks of farmland birds through winter as they feed on any grain spilt and weed seeds. Many farmers plant crops especially for birds that are not harvested –at this time of year the fields may look a bit dishevelled and rough, but they will be full of life.

Ivy is a bit of a marmite plant – you either love it or loathe it, but it is one of the most beneficial plants for wildlife all year round, especially during autumn and winter so resist if you can taking it out or cutting it back. Whereas most nectar rich plants are starting to die off, ivy’s flowers are now beginning to blossom, providing a vital late source of food for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Ivy is an all-round winner for nature because it’s evergreen leaves and habit offer crucial shelter for birds and insects even throughout the colder months, when other natural cover is thinning out. Ivy’s ripe berries are a crucial, calorie-rich source of food for birds, just when they need that extra energy hit to enable them to maintain their body temperatures.

Published: Sept 2017
Author: Claire Mucklow (Species and Habitats Officer-Cornwall)