Hedgerow homes

More than 2,000 years ago the Uffington White Horse was carved in the Berkshire Downs by Iron Age farmers. Even in those days much of the forest had been cleared to create grassland for their sheep, and woodland wildlife dwindled. In the 18th and 19th centuries, 200,000 miles of hedgerow were planted to divide the landscape into fields. The hedges were mainly hawthorn which blossoms in May. As the woodland disappeared, the hedgerows became the perfect refuge for many woodland animals. Chaffinches, for example, are typically woodland birds but also do well wherever there are hawthorn hedges. May blossom also provides a nursery for young spiders and the leaves of the hawthorn are food for many insects and their larvae. The nectar is a valuable source of energy for many of the small animals and parasitic wasps use the lance on their abdomen to probe for caterpillars in which to lay their eggs. In May, hedgerows crawl with caterpillars and many birds change their diet to feast on these protein-packed meals. Modern crop fields offer little else for young birds to eat at this time of year, and if it was not for the hawthorns many of them would starve.

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