Hedgerows were created or evolved for a number of different reasons, dependent upon the location and use of the land at any one point in time. It is known that in the past, Great Britain had a much greater density of woodland and scrub than is evident today.
As man cleared land for growing crops for his own consumption, he pushed the woodland and scrub back and created one form of boundary hedgerow. And as neighbouring fields developed, the retention of a hedgerow was a convenient way of marking the end of one man's land and the start of another.
A strong, thorny hedge was also a very effective and relatively cheap way of confining livestock before the development of other fencing methods.
As well as the above, the enclosure acts of the late 18th and early 19th century had a great influence on the creation of new hedgerows at that time.
Topics discussed on this page are:-
- Why do we need hedgerows?
- The threats that hedgerows face.
- Maintenance of healthy hedgerows.
- Hedge Laying - use this link for more details of this conservation technique.
Why do we need hedgerows?
There are many reasons why we need hedgerows as much today as we have in the past, in fact, we probably need hedgerows more than ever now.
- Soil Erosion.
- You only have to look across the fields of
south Norfolk or Cambridgeshire on a windy day to see the how soil
can be stripped from the surface of an exposed field with ease by
Mother Nature! A well maintained hedgerow can considerably reduce
the damage to the soil and crops likely to be caused by wind and
- Nature Conservation.
- Hedges form natural corridors along which
birds, animals and nsects can travel to and from other areas
of habitation. A healthy hedgerow will contain a complete food
chain from wildflowers and plants, through insects to mammals and
birds. Destroy this habitat and we will loose this entire chain of
- For the enjoyment of all.
- The countryside should be able to be enjoyed by all as a place to relax and to marvel at creation. Some people have the good fortune to live in the heart of the countryside whilst others have to travel some distance to see green lanes and hedgerows. We should all strive to ensure that the countryside of the future holds as much in store for our children as it does now for us.
The Threats that Hedgerows Face.
The advances in agricultural technology that have taken place since the 1940s have introduced ever more sophisticated machines involved in ploughing, sowing and reaping crops. These advances in design were usually accompanied by increases in the physical size of the machines and their capacity for work.
Where neighbouring fields were owned by the same farmer, it became increasingly attractive to remove the old hedgerows in order to give the machines a larger and less restricted operating area and increase crop yields.
The demands for increased food production following the second world war meant that more and more of this country's hedgerows were destroyed to make way for ever larger fields.
Since the 1960s, increasing concern about the mechanical removal of hedgerows has lead, in the 1990s, to the introduction of new hedgerow regulations which seek to protect the most valuable hedgerows that remain.
However, today, hedgerows are disappearing in a more subtle, and possibly more sinister way, by neglect and improper management.
Maintenance of Healthy Hedgerows
There are all too many examples these days of hedgerows that have been almost literally 'battered to death' by the over-enthusiastic use of the flail. Thin, low square shaped excuses for hedges, they offer little protection for wildlife or crops alike.
Admitted that landowners have little time to give to the old skills involved in hedge laying, but so much could be gained and so much could be put back into the countryside by adopting some different trimming regimes.
For example, there is no need to completely cut each hedge every year. Why not save time and effort by cutting once every two years or cutting one side one year and the other side the next?
The usual cross sectional shape of hedges is an upright rectangle. However, this often leads to a weak and gappy hedge with all the growth at the top, where the light is to be found.
An 'A' shape hedge however, ensures that the lower levels of hedge get as much light as the top and gives a much stronger and healthier structure that is far more capable as a wind and weather break.
For a detailed description of the craft of hedgelaying, please click here.
If a hedgerow has become too thin and gappy, it can partially be revived by cutting it almost right down to the ground (with a sloping cut). Although it looks like a very drastic approach to take, new growth will usually appear next spring and, coupled with new planting (to bridge large gaps), a reasonably viable hedgerow can be reestablished within three to four years.
It is advisable to publicise the fact that the hedgerow is being coppiced to encourage new growth before cutting the old hedge down. This will help to avoid a huge outcry from members of the public in the surrounding area.
The maintenance of even a thin amount of headland next to a hedgerow can protect the young hedge shrub growth from the damage caused by spray drift thus keeping the hedge healthy and effective. There are of course added benefits for the bird and insect life that live in and around the hedgerow.
In June 1998, new legislation was introduced in an attempt to control the destruction of hedgerows in rural settings. The full text of the legislation can be obtained by refering to this (gov.uk) web page.
However, in simple terms, a landowner who wishes to remove a hedgerow of greater then 20 metres in length, must first apply to the local planning authority (usually the district council) for planning permission. If the hedge is shown to be significant in terms of its age, environmental or historical importance, then the planning authority can refuse such permission and take further measures to protect the hedgerow.
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For a list of links to other hedgerow and conservation sites, click here.
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