Hedgerows, windbreaks, filter strips and other habitat plantings are increasingly being used in modern agricultural systems. Hedgerows have been planted in farming and rural situations for thousands of years. Fields were enclosed as early as the Bronze Age (3000 B.C.–1000 B.C.), and references to hedgerows exist back to 547 A.D. in Great Britain. Ancient hedgerows were used to confine livestock, define property lines, shelter farmland and dwellings from wind, provide food, medicine and fodder (game animals, fruit, nuts, herbs, acorns), and supply structural and fuel wood. The reorganization and industrialization of farmland in Great Britain led to the removal of approximately 200,000 miles of hedgerows between 1947 and 1993, and their reduction continues into the present. However, research into the positive resource qualities of hedgerows for agriculture, wildlife and rural culture has brought attention to their value.
In the 1970s and 1980s the International Tree Crops Institute USA promoted multi-purpose hedgerows, and Bill Crepps and Robert L. Bugg researched hedgerows at the University of California Davis, developing lists of insectary plants. John Anderson began installing multi-species native hedgerows in 1978 at Hedgerow Farms in Winters, California. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Resource Conservation Districts (RCD’s), and organizations like CAFF have been active in conservation plantings, and many hedgerows have been planted on farms in California. Windbreaks have been encouraged and used for climate modification and other conservation objectives in the U.S. since the 1930s. Filter strips and grassed waterways are effectively controlling runoff and nonpoint source pollution from entering waterways. This resource guide focuses primarily on hedgerows, although there is some overlap, such as with the use of large shrubs or trees to provide windbreak effects, or with the use of grasses and understory plants in hedges to give additional cover and increase control of runoff. Much research is being conducted in many countries into diverse aspects of the functioning of farmscape systems, some of which is summarized in Appendix D of this resource guide.
Hedgerows are defined as lines or groups of trees, shrubs, perennial forbs, and grasses that are planted along roadways, fences, field edges or other non-cropped areas. The word “hedge,” from the Old English word “hegg,” referred to an enclosure or boundary formed by closely growing bushes or by dead plant material.
Windbreaks are barriers usually consisting of trees or shrubs that are used to reduce and redirect wind, resulting in microclimate changes in the sheltered zone.
Filter strips are planted areas that use vegetation to control soil erosion, slow water runoff, and capture and prevent sediments and nutrients from entering waterways.