If there’s a rustle in your hedgerow...it might be a pollinator!
April 2, 2019
By: Paige Erickson-McGee & Ashlea Veldhoen
Hedgerows have become a lot more mainstream since Led Zeppelin confounded fans everywhere by using the word in their hit song Stairway to Heaven all those years ago.
So, what is a hedgerow and who wants one anyway?
A hedgerow is just what it sounds like: a dense hedge, made up of a variety of different plants lined up in a row. And we are not talking about the overdone cedar hedge along every other property in the region. Depending on the type, size and density of the plants used, a hedgerow can not only provide pollen, nectar and habitat for pollinators, but also serve as ‘living fences’ between properties, windbreaks, catch dust and block noise, and even increase carbon storage. That is why HAT has begun to include hedgerow plantings as part of our Good Neighbours Program, which focuses in the Wildwood Creek Watershed in Metchosin, part of HAT’s 3-Year Wildlife Corridor Project linking habitat on private land from East Sooke to the Sooke Hills.
Sea Bluff Farm in Metchosin is investing in nature for a long term pay off for their farm and pollinators, a win-win relationship that can result in improved pollination, increased crop yields and thus economic benefits for the farmers, all while improving habitat for local pollinators.
Farm Managers Sasha Kubicek and Robin Tunnicliffe accepted an opportunity to partner with HAT’s pilot program for land managers to co-pay for habitat installations as part of the HAT Good Neighbours Program. Already a certified organic farm, Sea Bluff is an ideal location for planting a pollinator hedgerow by offering a sheltered space away from pesticide use, which would otherwise compromise its effectiveness as pollinator habitat.
On March 25 2019, HAT, Sea Bluff Farm, and Saanich Native Plant co-hosted a hedgerow planting across a 300-foot (90-m) fence line where 17 volunteers planted over 223 native shrubs and perennial wildflowers. Plant species were selected to provide the longest continuous bloom possible, from February to October with native species such as June Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor), Saskatoon Berry (Amelanchier alnifolia), Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), Woolly Sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum), and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Bob Mitchell, second generation Metchosin farmer and operator at Sea Bluff since 1982, is thrilled to support pollinator stewardship on the farm, noting its educational benefits for local schools. “It will be great for the kids on the school buses who drive by on their way to Witty’s Lagoon” says Bob. “They can stop to look at the hedgerow and learn about them on class field trips.”
Photo: Hedgerow volunteers and HAT staff at Sea Bluff Farm - By: K. Miskelly
For the bee’s sake
BC has more than 450 species of native bees. That is more than the number of birds in all of Canada! So identification to species can be challenging and often isn't possible from a photograph. Most of our
native species (about 70%) do not live in hives but are solitary, living in the ground or hollow stems. Solitary meaning that after mating, they prepare and provision their nests without cooperation with other bees. Although they often will nest together in numbers when a good nesting area is found, the bees are only sharing a good nesting site and not cooperating, including the Blue Orchard Mason Bee (Osmia lignaria). None of them make honey (the honey bee – Apis melliforma – is not native to North America). Many of them do not sting. Our native bees come in a rainbow of colours including iridescent blues and greens, with only a very small number of species sporting the more familiar black and yellow bands. All bees evolved to use pollen for their protein source instead of animal prey. Think of them like wasps turned vegetarian, you’d virtually never expect to see a bumblebee (Bombus spp.) or any other bee visit the meat grilling on your backyard barbecue.
Currently, bee populations across the country are declining. Without enough food and nesting habitat on the landscape, pollinators are unable to find the resources necessary to survive. And bees are not the only ones. Right now, it is estimated that over 40 percent of all of Canada’s insects are also currently in steep decline. This reduction in bee and other insect populations can be attributed to wide-scale habitat loss to agriculture and development in combination with increased pesticide use and new diseases from introduced pollinator species.
Since insects are the basis for many food webs, their loss is likely causing chain reaction population declines in species that rely upon them – including our birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Faced with this knowledge, it seems only logical that we have a responsibility to support the recovery of our pollinators. Fortunately, conservation organizations including HAT are making it easier to do just that. HAT has begun a new initiative in partnership with local farmers and volunteers to plant or maintain hedgerows consisting of native trees, shrubs and plants that produce flowers and fruit – valuable food for bees and other pollinator insects.
Photo: Mason bee on Oregon Grape By: L. Weidenhammer
For better crops
Over a third of our native pollinating insects, such as leafcutter bees (Megachile spp.) and sweat bees (Halictidae spp.), provide important pollination services for fruit, vegetable and other crop growers on Vancouver Island. Over one-third of our total diet is dependent, directly or indirectly, upon insect-pollinated plants, so inviting them into our farms using hedgerows makes sense from a social, economic and ecological perspective. Almost 90% of flowering plants need pollinators to reproduce, so bees are a critical element to ecosystem stability. Hedgerows on farms supplement pollinator habitat to feed, shelter and reproduce, but benefits of these hedges or not limited to pollinators.
“Hedgerows are very important from the point of view of shelter, for nesting birds, and especially migratory songbirds. We’ve had a lot of storms over the last few years and I think a lot of farms would have benefitted greatly from a higher hedgerow near them to provide shelter for their buildings and crops. Hedgerows are very important sites for pollinators, as nesting sites as well as for their safe cover and pollen and nectar sources” – Bob Maxwell, Co-chair of the Peninsula and Area Agricultural Commission (retired) and owner of Fieldstone Farm.
Now during spring on Sea Bluff Farm, bees and other pollinators will be able feed on the hedgerow’s wild flowering plants all season long. In late summer and autumn, the hedgerow’s “messy and wild” appearance means that they also provide vital safety for late season birds and queen bumblebees that must fatten up to hibernate over winter.
Robin and Sasha sum it up perfectly by describing their motivation, “To us the many benefits of the hedgerow more than compensate for the small cost of installation and maintenance. It’s a small way for us to honour the insects and creatures who give us so much.”
HAT offers tips on managing a pollinator-friendly hedgerow:
Site preparation is extremely important, but not difficult. Removing undesirable vegetation like Himalayan Blackberry, and laying down cardboard topped with thick mulch will reduce maintenance in the future.
Plant as densely as you can: planting 3-5 gallon-sized shrubs or perennial wildflowers per metre will result in a beautiful and functional hedge in 2-3 years.
Keep at least one mature native tree within each hedgerow – Dogwood, Scouler’s Willow, or even Garry Oak.
Where possible, cut hedgerows back on a three-year cycle - cutting no more than a third of hedges in any year. Cutting annually stops the hedgerow flowering and fruiting.
Where possible, cut in rotation rather than all at once as this will ensure some areas of hedgerow on your farm will always flower.
Hedges managed for pollinators should ideally be cut between November and January, in an A-shape. If they must be cut outside this, cut in rotation, so some areas remain undisturbed.
Let some plants grow “wild and messy” in hedgerows on top, side-trimming only. All those nooks and crannies are key nesting spaces for birds and hibernating bumblebees.
Where hedgerows must be cut along the roadside for safety, allow the inside to flower.
Aim for a hedgerow that is as high as possible, but ideally 2.5m above ground level.
Avoid spraying any herbicide near the hedgerow. Use mechanical weed control such as a weed-eater or hedge trimmer only when necessary.
Create a mulched buffer margin at the hedgerow base to prevent grasses and weeds from sprouting up and competing with planted stock.
To find out more about how to manage hedgerows for pollinating insects, and download the Designing and Planting Hedgerows (link to PDF) Guide published in partnership with Pollinator Partnership Canada, Saanich Native Plants, and HAT.
Photo: Dorothy E. with native plants - By: A.Veldhoen
Some of the smiling faces of those who helped with the event, below!
The HAT Good Neighbours Project is funded by people like you, and Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, Metchosin Foundation, EcoAction Community Fund, and sponsorship by Saanich Native Plants Nursery and Consulting.
Support our Good Neighbours Program
Thank you to our wonderful sponsors for helping fund this event!