Chris Dady cel­e­brates the im­por­tance of the hedgerows which criss-cross our county

Norfolk - - Inside - Chris Dady Chair­man of the Cam­paign to Pro­tect Ru­ral Eng­land Nor­folk branch

The CPRE on the im­por­tance of the hedgerow

With more than 7,500 miles of hedges in Nor­folk it would be hard to imagine our coun­try­side with­out them. Thorn hedgerows were in­tro­duced by the Ro­mans, but it was not un­til we needed to keep an­i­mals from wan­der­ing and mark out bound­aries about 1,000 years ago that hedge plant­ing was car­ried out more sys­temati-cally, be­com­ing com­mon­place in the 18th and 19th cen­turies. Some of the orig­i­nal hedgerows still sur­vive to­day.

A tra­di­tional mixed hedge is able to sus­tain many plants, in­sects and an­i­mals well as be­ing a source of food for us. Hedgerows help re­duce flood­ing in wet pe­ri­ods and pro­tect against drought in dry spells by ab­sorb­ing and stor­ing wa­ter. They can min­imise soil ero­sion, re­duce pol­lu­tion by cap­tur­ing car­bon and act as bar­ri­ers to pre­vent drift­ing of snow, as well as ful­fill­ing their orig­i­nal pur­pose of mark­ing bound­aries and keep­ing farm an­i­mals se­cure.

Hedges are a beau­ti­ful part of our Nor­folk land­scapes with sea­sonal changes, blos­soms and au­tumn colours. More than 80% of our farm­land birds use hedges for pro­tec­tion and food, and species such as dormice, bats, newts and bees as well as other in­sects rely on them too, not for­get­ting the hedge­hog.

Our own fam­i­lies would have used hawthorn wood for tool han­dles and bowls, and its blos­som was the orig­i­nal wed­ding con­fetti. Other woods would have been used, and fruits, nuts and flow­ers would have been col­lected for wine­mak­ing, food and dec­o­ra­tion.

As a hedgerow ages it will build the num­ber of plant species present. Plants in­clud­ing cow pars­ley, prim­roses, net­tles and dock will fea­ture along­side fungi. Look for gorse, black­thorn, hawthorn, maple, guelder rose, bram­ble, dog rose, hazel, ap­ple, cherry, ch­est­nut, crab ap­ple, holly, po­plar, el­der, oak, beech, ash and elm.

Tra­di­tional hedge lay­ing is a tech­nique to help re­ju­ve­nate the hedge and en­sure it is thick and healthy enough to pro­vide a stock-proof bar­rier. Partly cut­ting through a small bush or tree in the hedge, it is then bent with­out break­ing and wo­ven back into the hedge. Prop­erly done, this en­cour­ages more growth and is at­trac­tive in its own right.

The town hedge is not to be over­looked. A mix of va­ri­eties will ben­e­fit a gar­den with plants and wildlife, as well as pro­vid­ing an at­trac­tive bound­ary, shade and pri­vacy in a way that a fence or a sin­gle va­ri­ety of ur­ban hedg­ing never can.

Sadly, sig­nif­i­cant amounts of hedgerow were lost in the UK mainly through agri­cul­tural in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion from the 1940s right through to the 1970s. A key threat to­day is poor man­age­ment and re­moval to make way for large scale de­vel­op­ments. Sub­sidised replanting schemes are more im­por­tant than ever. There are some rules against re­moval via the hedgerow reg­u­la­tions, but not all have pro­tec­tion. Some species can be dam­aged by over cut­ting, and nests can be de­stroyed if main­te­nance takes place dur­ing the nest­ing sea­son. Dis­eases such as ash die-back and sweet ch­est­nut blight also cause dam­age.

It is clear that hedges have a re­ally im­por­tant role in help­ing to al­le­vi­ate some of the cli­mate change is­sues we are fac­ing, and they add value by sup­port­ing the di­ver­sity of our flora and fauna as well as beau­ti­fy­ing our gar­dens and coun­try­side.

When you next walk past a hedge, have a look at the plants it con­tains, signs of in­sect and an­i­mal life, and fruits you can use in your kitchen. If you are lucky enough to have a mixed hedge, or have the op­por­tu­nity to plant one, it will re­ward you and the en­vi­ron­ment beau­ti­fully.

ABOVE: A hedge-layer at work

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