Skip to main content - Discovering Wildlife in Bristol

Fence vs Hedge

Imagine if every garden in the country was bordered by hedgerows! instead of the usual ugly, un-wildlife friendly, prison-worthy fences. Not only would a glimmer of the once biodiverse countryside be brought back; but the benefits gardens and the local surroundings would gain are unequivocal.

typical modern day fence

Modern day garden attributes. Today people are obsessed with fences and walls! To me they are some of the ugly-est creations man has every made and are such isores. I just don't get how people would rather have a fence/wall then a nice native hedgerow. Fences firstly are ugly things, they block sun (fences seem to be getting taller and wider every year), they're relatively expensive to put up/maintain (though most people don't maintain them that's why they don't last long), they are an unnecessary use of wood and chopping down of trees, They don't last long-they constantly need replacing, They are constantly getting blown over as they act like sails due to they're big surface area and do not let wind pace through, Noisy when its windy (rattle), don't let wildlife through, contribute to CO2 emissions when they rot, they're not very good at blocking noise e.g. from a busy road, and block nice views, relatively easy for criminals to get in-they just climb over.

Whereas a mixed native hedge is:

- Aesthetically pleasing

(good to look at, smell, and listen to (when it's windy but also the wildlife that it brings e.g. song birds etc.)

- Versatile

Can soot many different styles and conditions using different species

- Low cost

They are relatively cheap to put up/maintain (each sapling (2-3 years old) costs around £1 depending if you buy them on mass or not and what age they are will depend on how cheap or expensive they are)

- Long-lived

They last a very long time (hundreds of years)

- Filtering

clean the air of pollution, they sequester carbon/act as a carbon sink

- Stable

they stabilise soils and prevent degradation of soils/nutrient runoff and add organic matter to the soil

- Soakable

absorb water-prevents flooding

- Constant

they keep the local climate more stable contributing to cooling and warming effects through release of water as vapour through transpiration/providing shade and reducing wind speeds through air resistance

- Accessible

allows wildlife to pass from garden to garden, provides for wildlife (Food, shelter and breeding grounds and from this boosts local biodiversity increasing it)

- Stronger

They are stronger and more flexible so don't get knocked over by the wind, they also allow wind to pass through but at the same time slowing it down making conditions calmer/less windy

- Tasty

provides tasty treats e.g. berries, nuts and flowers to make wine etc e.g. Elder flower

- Soothing

quiet letting out only a nice relaxing swooshing sound when windy, very good at blocking/absorbing and dicipating noise such as from busy roads

- Camouflage

they blend in/naturalise with nice views

- Secure

harder for criminals to get in as hedges are denser and often spiky so more likely to put criminals off.

In fact I can't think of a single negative! Some people might say "but they grow big and they need cutting all the time". I say to you.. they can be suited to what ever your needs are. For example they can be kept really small and narrow by planting a single row close together (20cm) and by readily clipping it (once a year) keeping it dense and compact (not as good for wildlife) or let to grow big and wide by planting a double row with wide spacing (at least 45cm or more) and with less clipping to none at all (because when planted all the saplings are the same age, they are more competitive; they grow together getting the same amount of light, water and nutrients and are less likely to out compete one another so intern they grow as one slowly. They restrict each other and because they are fighting for light they go straight up so keep relatively narrow) although if not cut at all the hedge will become thinner but this make access for wildlife easier especially animals such as deer. To make the hedge best for wildlife it is best to cut it every 4 to 5 years making sure you only cut it in the winter months (best time is December to January) any earlier then you get rid of all the food e.g. berries and nuts which birds food otherwise have used over winter. Any later and you risk disturbing breeding creatures such as nesting birds. The reason for 4-5 years is simply that some wildlife prefers woody hedges with gaps habitat especially birds and others prefer dense, soft, sappy growth with less gaps such as many insects. By cutting every 4-5 years you ensure a balance between woody and soft growth to match all hedgerow wildlife's needs. Otherwise you can manage different parts of the hedge differently such as leaving patches out of the way to become wilder and more woody with lots of gaps and other areas more maintained and more often cut and cutting different parts on a rotational basis. Or you could selectively leave certain trees to grow bigger above the hedge and the rest to be cut more often. There are endless ways of achieving balances for biodiversity and your physical needs.

What type of native hedge to use:

Firstly it is important that you use only natives as they have evolved alongside other native organisms (biotic/living) and conditions (abiotic/non-living) for thousands of years and so have formed highly complicated inter relationships with one another in which to survive. So is highly exploited by wildlife. Non natives are simply not recognised and are a lot less valuable for wildlife. Also natives are well adapted to the conditions of Britain's soil types and pH and climate e.g. exposure, moisture levels, sun light, temperature etc. Different species grow at different rates per year e.g. Ash trees, Willow grows very fast and are better for bigger hedgerows. Whereas many evergreens e.g. Holly, Yew, Juniper, Wild Privet, Box, Strawberry tree grow slowly so can be kept smaller

What species to use and how many: different species prefer different conditions e.g. some particularly willows prefer wet/waterlogged soils and others such as Beech prefer well drained soils. Usually hedgerows are a mix of species for example it is common for Hazel, Common Hawthorn, Field Maple, Blackthorn, Dog Wood, Elder and Common Dog-rose. To all grow together. But you can have single species although this won't be as wildlife friendly and won't grow to be as tightly knitted together as a mixed hedgerow is. It is best to have at least three different species. It's also what type of hedgerow you want. If you just go for Evergreens then it will be permanently leafy and if you go for just deciduous species it will be leafless during the dormant months. Otherwise you could have a mix between the two giving it more interest and wildlife value.

Here is a species list of trees/shrubs to use and combinations:

The fact is most trees / shrubs will tolerant a wide range of conditions but to improve your chances of success I have devised a system with splits species into preferred conditions


Slow Growing:

Fast Growing:

Shade Loving:

Sun Loving:


Boggy Ground:

Dry Ground:

  • English Oak/Pendunculate oak (Quercus Robur) or used as single standing
  • Sessile oak (Quercus patrea) or used as single standing
  • Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) or used as single standing
  • Common beech (Fagus sylvatica)
  • Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)
  • Hazel (Corylus avellana)
  • Wych elm (Ulmus glabra)
  • Aspen (Populus tremula)-used as single standing
  • Black Poplar (Populus nigra)-used as single standing
  • Goat willow (Salix caprea)
  • Grey willow (Salix cinerea)
  • Eared willow (Salix aurita)
  • Bay willow (Salix pentandra)
  • Purple willow (Salix purpurea)
  • Large Leaved-lime (Tilia platyphyllos)-pollarded or single trees
  • Small-Leaved lime (Tilia cordata)-pollarded or single trees
  • Common lime (Small-leaved x Large-leaved)
  • Field Maple (Acer campestre)
  • Common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
  • Midland hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata)
  • Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
  • Wild cherry (Prunus avium)
  • Bird cherry (Prunus padus)
  • Alder buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula)
  • Purching buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)
  • Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)
  • Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)
  • Wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana)
  • Common alder (Alnus glutinosa)
  • Silver Birch (Betula pendula)-used as single standing
  • Downy birch (Betula pubescens)-used as single standing
  • Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea)
  • Elder (Sambucus nigra)
  • Spindle (Euonymus europaea)
  • Crab apple (Malus sylvestris)
  • Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)
  • Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo)-Ireland only
  • Yew (Taxus baccata)
  • Juniper (Juniperus communis)
  • Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
  • Wild privet (Ligustrum vulgare)
  • Common Box (Buxus sempervirens)

Alternatives to hedgerows:


They allow wildlife through but still provide boundaries. If native climbers are planted and trained across they can provide the same value as hedgerows but on a much narrower fence-like scale. If you leave around the base to grow wild then expect even more value to be gained. Naturally occuring vegetation such as grasses, nettles and even climbers (Bindweeds) will be given the chance to show off!

Tennis Court Fencing (with a large gap at the base):

This provides the same function as the railings with perhaps an easier platform for climbers to establish and allows small animals such as birds and butterflies to pass through easily.

Wildlife Access Friendly Walls:

Walls are actually very good for wildlife but get better as they age. The only real negative walls pose on wildlife is access particularly for Mammals, Amphibians and Reptiles. To overcome this, walls must have holes at the base e.g. hedgehog highways. This is easier to do in walls that are going to be built. In old walls, holes will have to carefully be chizzeled out. Walls can be made better for wildlife by adding bird boxes and bee hotels to existing ones and including them within newly planned walls. Native climbers could also be planted. Excluding Ivy, climbers may need help to climb walls using training wire or a trellice.

Making your existing fence better for wildlife:

Climb native plants up using a trellice or training wire, allow ground dwelling wildlife such as hedgehogs access by cutting holes at the base, digging a shallow ditch below (like in Chicken run) or by cutting the entire base off (fences often have a basal panel a bit like a skirting board). Bird boxes and bee hotels etc. could also be added.

New fencing:

Go for a fence that has a gap at the base to allow accessibility to wildlife. Add trellice or training wire to grow native climbers, put up bird boxes and bee hotels etc.