Blackthorn at the Millennium Road, Naas. Picture: Nuala Madigan
Hedgerows are a wildlife haven filled with a wonderful array of tree species, shrubs (low growing woody plants), wildflowers, nesting birds and mini-beasts.
They are used as a corridor for mammals, including hedgehogs, to move around, as they offer shelter from predators.
Hedgerows also filter our air as the plants grow they take in carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and release oxygen. They can act to reduce noise pollution and as a wind break.
At this time of year, as the leaf buds begin to burst around our community hedgerows, one species is offering colour as it always flowers before it produces its leaves — the native blackthorn (draighean as Gaeilge).
At this time of year, the white five-petalled flower of blackthorn is easily identified, and when you are walking or driving around your community you cannot miss the clusters of white blossoms amongst the brown branches.
The early flowering blackthorn makes it a valuable source of nectar for bumblebees and butterflies. However, don’t get too close to blackthorn. As its name suggests, it has long thorns believed to help protect the emerging fruits, called ‘sloes’, from being eaten before the seeds within can develop.
Sloes are blue-black in colour and are described on the wildflowerofireland.net website as looking like tiny plums.
For any gin lovers out there, you will know that sloe gin is a favourite among some drinkers. The sloes are steeped in gin and sugar to make a tipple to be enjoyed.
Sadly, hedgerows in Ireland are in decline, with Teagasc estimating that only 5-7% of the land in the country is now covered in hedgerows.
Once important features in our countryside used to create a barrier to keep livestock in fields, they have been removed to increase land size and more modern methods of fencing are used, including the use of electric fences.
Do you have a hedgerow in your community? This week keep a watchful eye and I hope you encounter the wonderful spring blooms of blackthorn.
If you come across a wildlife species that you would like help identifying I would be happy to help. Contact me at email@example.com.