Wildlife in our Hedgerows
As they travel in search of food, mates and shelter, animals follow their own ‘highways’ – the hedgerows, walls, fences and rivers that thread the countryside of Britain.
Much of the British landscape is made up of a patchwork of fields and field boundaries, occasionally interspersed with natural features such as wood, rivers and lakes. Wherever necessary the countryside has been partitioned in order to manage and farm it effectively. A close look reveals that it is also dissected by a wide variety of animal paths, ranging from a few inches wide (those made by small animals such as mice, voles, and shrews) to several feet in width (made by larger mammals such as badgers, deer and foxes).
These animal highways serve the same function as our roads and tracks in allowing animals to move easily from place to place. However, animals have to choose their highways with some care since, unlike man, they are susceptible to predation. They must travel by the most sheltered routes available, although this may necessitate going further – around the edge of a field, for instance, rather than straight across it. Field boundaries offer some shelter and they are exploited as relatively safe highways by an abundance of wildlife. If you look carefully beside a hedge or wall, fence or river, you may see a small but well-trodden path running alongside it; furthermore, in a hedgerow you may see well-worm runs through the hedge where animals have crossed from one side to another.
Animal Travel Routes
Natural highways are exploited by animals for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, they offer a sheltered route for animals to travel from one point to another. Animals need to move about the countryside in search of the resources necessary for survival – and travel out in the open is always a hazardous business; small animals are in danger from many different predators, while large ones often have man and his vehicles to fear.
Food is obviously an important resource; animals move along their highways in search of foo, which they find en route or in adjacent land. Furthermore, nature’s pathways frequently form territorial boundaries and animals travel along them in order to define and defend them. Scent marks (those of foxes and badgers, for example) are commonly used to delimit a territory and these have to be replenished at frequent intervals).
Movement in search of a new home is called dispersal and typically involves juvenile animals (young foxes and weasels, for instance) which have been expelled from their natal range at the end of summer, and are forced to travel until they find a vacant area in which to settle. Solitary species, such as hedgehogs and squirrels, will also travel long distances in search of a partner with whom they can mate.