QWAG has a growing interest in ‘hedge funds’ for a modest project with lofty connections writes QWAG’s Dave Larkin.
“Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote…”
Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
Not for us Chaucer’s ‘shoures soote’ because April has been a tale of unseasonable heat and dryness with April showers appearing only at the end of the month.
The winter just gone saw more rain than in recent winters where parts of the UK faced a winter drought. The rain we have had may still not be enough to avert a drought this summer.
Even when it does rain a lot, the low-lying sandy soils in the area we cover do not retain water for long. That’s one reason why even after heavy downpours local rivers can turn from a torrent to a trickle within days.
It’s also why during long dry spells QWAG members look to the skies, perform a rain-dance or two and welcome any rain, if and when it comes.
Another reason for wanting it to rain is to keep our hedge fund investment healthy.
Yes!, QWAG has funded and planted 20 metres of mixed hedgerow beside the River Quaggy close by Sutcliffe Park, the scene of QWAG’s original campaign to restore the river.
As well as helping to store and hold back potential flood waters, taking the river out of concrete and bringing it above ground has led to other beneficial actions. As a result of improved conditions for nature in and around the park since river restoration some 80 species of bird and five species of bat have now been recorded.
The new hedge by the river is part of our plan to continue to boost conditions for people and wildlife in and around the park to add to the success of the restored rivers.
But for very young trees – known as whips – the lack of rain, hot sun and drying winds are not what they need in early spring, certainly not on a south-facing site.
Plants can be resilient, and some can recover even when leaves are frazzled by heat. But young roots are not well enough developed to tap deep into soils for much needed moisture. And with no refreshing and renewing showers, signs of stress were becoming only too apparent, and we didn’t want to risk it.
The obvious remedy to ensure the young hedge plants survived was simply to water them. And with the River Quaggy close to hand, that’s what we’ve been doing.
By now you may be asking why a river action group is planting hedging. It’s a good question.
QWAG’s constitution says the group exists ‘To promote the conservation and protection and improvement of the River Quaggy and its tributaries including its flora and fauna for the public benefit’.
All hangs on the interpretation of ‘its flora and fauna’. Does this mean within the river itself or does it stretch to banksides and immediate vicinity?
Given, the Quaggy is mere feet away, and appreciating the value of hedgerows in general (see below), we took the wider view and invested in our own ‘hedge fund’.
Once it is established in a few years’ time, the modest Quaggy hedgerow should benefit wildlife and us by:
1. Filtering traffic noise and air pollution – The busy A210 Eltham Road runs close to Sutcliffe Park and the hedge will help shield people as they walk, exercise or just seek a break from the urban hubbub.
2. Boosting wildlife – The hedge’s six native species – hawthorn, guelder rose, hazel, field maple, dog rose and crab apple – form the basis of many food chains as well as providing nesting, roosting, and hibernating space for wildlife.
3. Storing carbon – All trees and shrubs will do this to some extent, above and below ground. The collective importance of hedgerows in combatting climate change has now been recognised by the government’s own Climate Change Committee (CCC). In May 2019, the CCC advised that a further 124,000 miles of urban and rural hedgerows should be planted.
4. Concealing an eyesore – This spot is where in 2018, the Environment Agency broke out the culverted section of the river for its state-of-the art trash screen – a device that traps bulky objects in the river like branches, shopping trolleys and more, before they obstruct flow and potentially cause floods.
Some regard the trash screen and its spiked-protective railings as an engineering marvel while others say it’s downright ugly. Either way, the hedging softens a sight which many do not find easy-on-the-eye.
A modest hedge with high connections
London has space for urban hedges on a massive scale – sterile security railings surround parks, sports grounds, schools, allotments, they’re everywhere. They cry out for living hedgerows with all of their benefits.
Colleagues at the Friends of Sutcliffe Park have planted or initiated planting of well over 1,000 metres of hedging in recent years, showing how much can be done and the multiple benefits that brings.
Our riparian hedge is modest in comparison (although it’s complemented by our collaboration with the Friends resulting in their funding a further 70 metres) but it does have some high connections because it’s growing just outside Sutcliffe Park on land owned by HM The Queen, or rather her Crown Estate.
Thank you, Your Majesty.
And long may it rain on the Quaggy Hedge.
The value of hedgerows and growing and care tips: https://ptes.org/hedgerow/
Watering street trees https://www.streettreesforliving.org/water-a-tree