April to July is the wildflower season in South Devon and a perfect time to see the amazing displays which appear in hedgerows and banks. But it’s not just plants which thrive in these wonderful wildlife rich habitats. . .
Visit South Devon to experience the miles of wildflowers which adorn our ancient hedgerows during the Spring and Summer
Devon hedgerows are highly valued and enjoyed both by residents and visitors, especially when the dazzling displays of wildflowers are in bloom. Primroses, Bluebells, Hedge Parsley, Wild Garlic, Greater Stitchwort and many other plants fit together in a perfect jigsaw of colours and shapes, and go on literally mile after spectacular mile!
Devon hedges were built and planted over 800 years ago to protect crops and livestock from the weather. Although a man made feature of the landscape their presence has also provided a wildlife rich habitat for plants and flowers, mammals and pollinators. In a recent Devon Hedgerow survey the secrets of these vital ecosystems were revealed – incredibly 2,500 different wildlife species live in just 900 meters of hedgerow! Put that together with the 33,000 miles of hedged landscape in Devon – well, I’ll leave the maths to someone else!
We should be glad that our ancestors built hedges to last: planted on earth banks (a Devon Hedgebank), high and deep to protect crops and livestock from the the prevailing South Westerly winds. In more recent times our hedges came under threat when the Government advised farmers to destroy them to make way for large agricultural machinery and more intensive farming practices. Where those hedges disappeared so did the wildlife, so did the soil as it was eroded by the weather, so did the aesthetics of the landscape. Fortunately Devon was relatively unscathed by this practice and today they are protected by the renewed efforts of landowners and farmers, and with the help of charities such as Devon Hedges and the Devon Wildlife Trust.
So back to our list of species (but not all 2,5oo, I promise!).
A Devon hedgerow wouldn’t be the same without the sturdy Blackthorn which grows easily and spreads readily making the hedges thick, dense and dark; a perfect bolthole for wildlife. In May the Blackthorn makes a seasonal statement with a fine display of white blossom which fills the air with almond scent. Then Gorse, Holly and Hazel squeeze into the gaps, and Bramble, Honeysuckle and Dog Rose fill in the margins. Deep down the small holes and pockets of soil create a root-hold for what becomes a myriad of wildflowers, grasses and ferns, in turn creating a nectar rich margin loved by insects, bees and butterflies.
Every few hundred meters along the hedge line a fully grown Hazel or Ash tree, itself a home to thousands of insects, will offer an excellent vantage point for a Buzzard or Tawny Owl, or a temporary hang-out for Bats. The Hedgehog and Hazel Dormouse, both numbers in decline due to habitat loss, will use hedgerows to safely disburse after hibernation and to find a mate. Voles, Shrews, Weasels and Stoats will stay undercover of a hedge, making a dash across the road to the other side only when necessary! Or the Sparrowhawk will fly with great speed and agility along the edges, hoping to flush out and ambush small birds.
Nest-building material, a food larder and the all-important protection from predators are all vital for our Song Birds. During the nesting season we watch discreetly as busy parents flit in and out of the dark, thick hedges to their eggs and newly hatched chicks. When we trim or lay the hedges we find the empty nests of Wrens, Robins, Goldfinches or Spotted Flycatchers, showing a map of all the new bird life that has been added to the natural world during the season!
Previous guests to Dittiscombe Holiday Cottages find that the wildflower season is a magical time to visit South Devon. Taking a walk or cycle ride along the lanes to Slapton makes a good start, so don’t miss it: book a short break or a week at Dittiscombe and discover for yourself the secret world of an ancient South Devon hedgerow!
You can read more blogs about our local wildlife and the Slapton and Start Bay area on our Dittiscombe Blog Page.