A hedgerow is a strip of native shrubs and perennial herbs that is planted along an agricultural field margin. The plants are often selected for specific attributes, such as attracting a wide array of native pollinators, providing resources for beneficial insects such as natural enemies, or blooming during a specific time period. Hedgerows don’t take away any land for production, in fact they often replace (and suppress) weedy vegetation that grows along field edges. Hedgerows create habitat not only for pollinators, but also for other wildlife that often use hedgerows as corridors to move through landscapes. Hedgerows also provide erosion control and act as windbreaks. In addition, they are aesthetically pleasing.
Hedgerows are a useful tool for farmers looking to enhance ecosystem services to their crops. They are relatively easy to establish and are beneficial to a wide variety of crops, but can be specifically tailored as well. Many scientific studies have found that proximity to natural habitat greatly bolsters pollination services to agriculture. Because hedgerows can be planted next to any given field, they provide flexibility to growers who are not able to relocate their fields or invest in large-scale conservation actions.
My lab’s research examines the benefits of hedgerows. Post-doctoral researcher Dr. Lora Morandin’s work shows that hedgerows not only support larger numbers of bees, but the bees are more abundant up to 200 m into fields next to hedgerows. My study build off this by asking whether hedgerows are “sources” of bees. I use nesting within hedgerows as a proxy for reproductive success within the site.
Pollinator protection is an area recognized as critically important to agriculture. The 2008 Farm Bill contained specific provisions for Pollination Conservation and Habitat Protection, targeting both honey bees and native bees. This act makes projects focused on pollinators a priority for government agencies such as the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). In addition, programs through the NRCS, such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP), offer cost sharing to farmers creating pollinator habitats such as hedgerows. These programs, along with yield boosts from enhanced pollination attributed to native bees, make hedgerows a more cost-effective option.
For information on planting palettes for hedgerows in your region, check out the Xerces Society’s plant list page.
In Yolo County, my study area, John Anderson runs Hedgerow Farms, which specializes in growing plants for hedgerow plantings.
For additional information on the benefits of hedgerows, I suggest reading Rachel Long and John Anderson’s publication “Establishing Hedgerows on Farms in California” or the California Alliance with Family Farmers resource guide.