Saturday, 19 February 2011

why plant local native trees and shrubs?

Although our county is famous for its ancient forest, it is hedgerows that define Nottinghamshire’s landscape. Many are medieval or older, lots more border the rich mosaic patterns of our fields following the enclosure of once common lands. And some are modern. Whether ancient or modern, they are essential homes for a wide range of wildlife. Hedgehogs, Jack by the hedge and hedge sparrows all take their name from their favoured habitat. Hedges are essential for feeding and breeding, provide shelter and are a criss crossing pathway connecting other habitats that might include woods, heaths meadows and wetlands allowing wildlife to move across the landscape.

Hedges, of course, are completely man made but at best locally include hawthorn, blackthorn, field maple, holly and hazel. These native species all provide larval food for specialist moths and butterflies and provide food for mammals and birds too.

So, in creating our new garden that is friendly to wildlife, a sympathetic hedge was needed. Let’s plant one!!

There are loads of cheap, Eastern European imports that can be used but I’m hesitating. I’m not sure…

Part of the reason for hesitating is in concern that that we use plants that have literally always had their roots in Nottinghamshire. This is not some cranky chauvinism or plant nationalism. The genetic makeup of local plant communities has evolved over many years to suit the local conditions. Over millennia, this adaptation can lead to distinct varieties or even species developing that uniquely fit the conditions they are growing in, in that locality. By introducing plants from different parts of the country or continent, the unique identity of plant communities can be changed forever as once unique local DNA is mixed with that from other areas. This is all very abstract and distant from me, who waits spade in hand to get planting. On a purely selfish level, locally-provenanced native trees and shrubs are better adapted to local conditions. And this should mean they survive better and even save us money by avoiding the costs of replanting. Now you’ve caught my attention as my family motto is ‘every pound a prisoner’!

Trees grown from imported seed may differ significantly in important genetic characteristics, such as the time they come into leaf, flower and fruit, upsetting the fine balance between native trees and the wildlife they support. This is because they have adapted to their own conditions, which may be very different from those in my garden.

Sourcing trees and seeds locally also reduces transport costs, reduces pollution and helps to safeguard local employment. But the problem is finding these local plants.

So, your plant sleuth had to do a bit of detective work. This included leaning against lamposts at night in the shadows with hat covering face, untipped cigarette causing eyes to squint as I peered into the darkness from the warmth of my raincoat with collar upturned.

Actually none of that at all…

I played a game of telephone pass the parcel over several days but eventually tracked down ‘Skegby Horticultural Unit’ sheltered workplace whose mission over these past years has been to collect local seed and to grow local wild plants.

And hurrah, just as I was on the point of pressing ‘submit’ on an order of East European hedging plants, the call came through that the unit could help me!

So now I have ordered hedging plants for a 270 metre hedge as follows:
Hawthorn (crataegus monogyna) 1100
Hazel (coryllus avelana) 60
Holly (ilex aquifolium) 40
Guelder rose (viburnum opulus) 60
Spindle (eunonymous europeas) 60
Field Maple (acer campestre) 60
Blackthorn (prunus spinosa) 50
Crab apple (malus sylvestris)1 (they only had one left!)

The hawthorn, unfortunately is not from Nottinghamshire but is British.
All other plants have been grown from seed collected in Skegby or Brierley Country Park.

Once our new fence is in I can begin the back-breaking work of preparing 270 metres of ground to receive the little plants that must be planted before we get too far into March.

They will then, with luck, become a beautiful and thriving native hedge that is great for wildlife and that will last many years.

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