Hedgerow Inventory Project

Hedgerows in the Sussex Landscape

A trip around Sussex will soon reveal not only the great diversity of our landscape, but also the extent to which much of it has remained unchanged over many years. Small fields surrounded by species-rich hedgerows are an important and characteristic feature of our Sussex countryside and it is interesting to consider their possible origin and why many still remain.

Mist-across-fields

A Bit of History

Mankind has been influencing our countryside for more than 10,000 years (since Mesolithic times), but the Neolithic period, some 5,000 years ago, was a time of increased woodland clearance for grazing and crop planting. This process was more marked on the chalk South Downs than in the heavy clays of the Weald. Even more noticeable were the changes in the Middle Ages, with the assarting of large areas of woodland, leaving many small fields surrounded by shaws or rewes, as they are known locally. Many of the resulting field patterns remain today, augmented by a piecemeal process of enclosure by hedgerow planting around areas of waste pasture, around estates and along lanes. We are also fortunate in remaining one of England's most heavily wooded counties – much of it being ancient, semi-natural.

Hedgerow Losses Nationally

Various estimates from aerial photography, and later from sampling, have suggested that in England and Wales, between the end of the Second World War and 1985, we had lost more than 20% of around 500,000 miles of hedgerow. A further decline, again of more than 20%, has been recorded from 1984 to 1990. Fortunately, the rate of loss appears to have been stemmed in the past eight years. The Hedgerows Regulations 1997, introduced in June 1997, were designed to protect ‘important’ hedgerows in the countryside. A Review of the Hedgerows Regulations 1997 (PDF) initiated in May 1997 is on-going.

Hedgerow Losses Locally

A trip around Sussex might suggest that this national trend has not been reflected locally, and that might well be right. Much of the Sussex countryside does not lend itself to intensive, large-scale, agricultural enterprise and the pressure to grub up the hedgerows has been less intense in parts of Sussex – particularly in the Weald – than, for example, in East Anglia. The truth is, we just don't know how many hedgerows we have now, let alone how many we have lost.

The Data

The Sussex Hedgerow Habitat Action Plan commits us to testing methods for identifying ancient/species-rich hedgerows, collating information on interesting hedgerows for targeting of grants and advice, and to identifying the extent of our ancient/species-rich hedgerows by the end of 2010.

To meet these objectives, the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre, supported by the Sussex Biodiversity Partnership, and based at Sussex Wildlife Trust has embarked on a programme to meet these objectives. We are establishing a Geographical Information System (graphic and tabular) database of the hedgerows of Sussex. To do so, we are initially contacting other conservation organisations and individuals, who might be holding data on Sussex hedgerows and asking them to share these data with the Record Centre. Additionally, we would like to hear from any members of the public who might be holding information on Sussex hedgerows. These data will be available for public consultation – subject to the normal constraints on privacy.

The Surveys

Initial surveys: We have distributed several thousand Sussex Hedgerow Survey leaflets with information about our hedgerows and asking people to help us by selecting and surveying their favourite ones. Over 700 hedgerow survey forms have been returned to us so far and more than half (over 60 km) have already been added to the database. Please keep them rolling in! You may download a copy of the survey leaflet in PDF format (308Kb), or you can also download just the tear-off survey slip in PDF format (100Kb) or Word format (123Kb). We will scrutinise each survey form and identify the more important or species-rich hedgerows for detailed, full surveying.

Full surveys: Not only are these being done as a follow-on to the initial surveys, but we also have trained volunters who are busy surveying random quarter kilometer sample squares in the different Sussex ‘Natural Areas’. If you would care to join that happy band, please get in touch with us. Additionally, several Sussex parishes are undertaking full parish hedgerow surveys. If you are thinking of setting up a similar scheme in your parish and would like some help, please let us know. Copies of the Full hedgerow survey form in PDF format (79Kb), or Full hedgerow survey form in Word format (376Kb) are available here, together with the Full survey guidance notes in Word format (18Kb).

Index of Files and Links

If you are seeking further information about Sussex hedgerows please email hedgerows@sussexwt.org.uk