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Build a dead hedge for wildlife

Updated: Jan 4, 2023

One voice for Animals Guest blog by RSPB

It might sound like an oxymoron, but a dead hedge is a wonderful habitat that’s full of life. Dead hedges provide hiding places and nesting habitats for all sorts of creatures, as well as food for insects. As it rots down, the nutrients are recycled back into the earth below, meaning your garden ‘waste’ needn’t go into garden bins or bonfires. Creating a dead hedge is an ongoing activity, which can be added to every time you prune a tree or cut back a shrub.

There is every opportunity to get creative and artistic with a dead hedge - woody prunings can be woven in, and you can even grow climbers along the hedge for added wildlife value. What is a dead hedge? In nature, dead sticks, logs and leaves teem with life - they’re as much a part of the ecosystem as the flowers, leaves and new growth we prize. A dead hedge is an upright structure of woody cuttings woven between vertical stakes. The stakes are usually the sturdier branches cut from trees or shrubs. They provide a tangled maze and a perfect hideaway for birds such as blackbirds, robins, wren and dunnocks to nest and forage within. A dead hedge is the kind of feature you can build up bit by bit, month by month, whenever you do a little pruning or tidying around the garden. By giving your dead hedge its own place in the garden, you can keep the garden tidy and good for wildlife at the same time. Dead hedge vs fence Dead hedges can be a good way of splitting the garden up into separate areas by adding a natural screen. They can also be a good way to hide big bins or compost heaps. If you’ve had a fence blow down, dead hedges can work a lot harder for the wildlife in your garden. Why not consider creating a natural, woven dead hedge to replace it?

Step 1: How to make a dead hedge Ideally, use straight lengths of branch, 3 to 5cm diameter, cut from the garden. If possible cut a point to the end and hammer into the ground in two opposite rows about 45 to 60cm apart and at 1 to 1.5m spacings between stakes along each row. Alternatively, you can use simple wooden garden stakes to get started. Begin by pushing woody prunings between the stakes. Over time, add more cuttings to the pile, weaving longer branches between the stakes and among the cuttings. Although, inevitably some twigs will stick out and look 'untidy', avoid the temptation to cut them back. They will make great perches for birds and even insects to sit and hold territory from. Step 2: Get creative with your dead hedge The next step is to add a little colour to your dead hedge. You can grow climbers through or over a dead hedge easily - honeysuckle or clematis is a great idea. Or, how about creating a mini wildflower meadow nearby? Simply sprinkle some wildlife-friendly flower seeds around to attract bees and butterflies to your dead hedge area. You can also work in a hedgehog house into the hedge base, as well as an open front nest box.

For more wildlife activity ideas visit the RSPB website.

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