Surrey Wildlife Trust has trained more than 100 volunteers to invigorate the growth of hedgerows across the North Downs in Surrey and give hope to iconic hazel dormice. The new volunteer task force has surveyed an incredible 27km of hedgerows and planted and laid 2km, learning historic countryside skills so they can create beautiful hedgerows to help populations of dormice expand.

While hazel dormice will not be seen until spring when they come out of hibernation, they are golden-brown, 6-9cm in size, have large black eyes, a furry tail, and spend all their time in small family groups above ground in hedgerows and trees. With long toes and sharp claws, they are acrobatic climbers, so well suited to life within a dense bushy hedgerow.

However, since 1945 half of hedgerows have disappeared from the landscape and 93 per cent of the county’s remaining hedgerows are now in poor condition. The loss and fragmentation of hedgerows has meant a decline of more than 50 per cent in the UK population of hazel dormouse.

Even small gaps in a hedgerow could be a big problem for dormice, isolating populations and threatening the adorable species to extinction. But now Surrey Wildlife Trust is training a workforce to reverse hedgerow declines. From November to March, the hedge laying, and planting season is in full swing.

Katy Fielding, Hedgerow Heritage project officer at Surrey wildlife Trust, said: ‘Hedgerows are like a silver bullet for climate change and wildlife in urban, suburban or rural areas. They already store nine million tonnes of carbon in the UK and take up a lot less space than forests. Put simply, hedgerows provide one of the most convenient and compact climate change solutions there is.

‘Protecting us from wind, flooding, drought, pollution and soil erosion. Hedgerows also provide safe passage, shelter, roosting opportunities, an all-year-round food source for birds, bats, bees, butterflies and dormouse to name a few. They pack a big punch for their size and we want to get everyone planting and laying hedgerows from back gardens to open farmlands.’

As part of the Hedgerow Heritage project, Surrey Wildlife Trust has produced an animation about the importance of hedgerow highways and worked with young people, such as, India Davies, grounds person at Clandon Wood Natural Burial Ground, who has been trained in the ancient art of hedge laying.

India said: ‘Laying the hedges at Clandon Wood is one of the best parts of the winter season, as it’s a great way to warm up on a freezing day. There’s something very satisfying about using hand tools like axes to chop into wood and work to create order in something previously straggly and unmanaged. When the binders are tied up on top and the stake heads are trimmed, the final effect is something to marvel.’

‘Planting a hedge is a different story, which involves putting tiny thin blackthorn and hawthorn whips into gaps in a hedge. You’ve got to be patient to see the end result here. It’ll take a few years for these hedge plants to grow big enough to resemble a proper hedge, but I imagine that will be something rewarding to check back on in ten years or so.’

For further information about becoming a volunteer to help survey, plant or lay hedgerows across the North Downs as an individual or community group please visit www.saveourhedgerows.co.uk

The innovative ‘Preserving Surrey’s Hedgerow Heritage’ project has in part been made possible by National Lottery players.