Often they look slightly unruly, a little unkempt and without the crisp edges and uniform attributes that we seem to like in our gardens and neatly ploughed fields but hedges are amazing.

A hedge is often made up of a number of shrubs, trees and wild flowers, and in some cases they date back hundreds of years.

Oliver Rackham, who knows a thing or two about the countryside, argues that hedges became a natural replacement for the loss of woodland that was often cleared to make way for development or agriculture. 

Once the humble hedge was the natural pesticide. A home for bug eating birds and insects that would feed on those pesky pests that enjoy taking a share of the crop. Birds would fly into the crop pick off the ‘pests’ and head back to the hedge.

The hedge is a food parlour, nursery, home and security guard. It also prevents soil erosion by acting as a windbreaker and the many species it is made up of improve air quality and lock-in carbon dioxide.

Alas the invention of the tractor and the combine harvester meant that small fields bounded by hedges were unproductive and so the hedges were lost, the fields made bigger and the natural pest control system was replaced by harmful sprays.

And so the insects and the birds and the mammals that relied on hedges went……? Went where?

Aerial photographs taken during the second world war mean it is possible to conclude that since the 1950s we have lost about half the hedges in England, that’s over 200,000 km of hedgerow.

I’m reminded of this because I’ve recently seen about a quarter of a mile of hedge removed from a roadside near where I live. Presumably this is a precursor to development but why the hedge couldn’t be retained I don’t know.

And having spent the weekend in Devon and watching how quickly a huge housing development alters the landscape I’m left wondering what the birds are going to do when they start drifting back from Africa and Southern Europe to breed because one thing is for sure – there ain’t as many options today as when they left at the end of last summer.

So next time you walk past a hedge with nettles on the ground, a bit of hawthorn poking out and some old beech weaving through, just think what good it is doing.