Monthly Archives: March 2011

Netherbyres hedges – home for retired gardeners

These hedges are from the 18th-century elliptical walled garden at Netherbyres in East Lothian. The garden is over half a hectare and includes Victorian glasshouses, as well as a wide range of fruit and vegetables, flowers, herbs, climbers, and other plantings.

It’s not open to the public, as the house has become a home for retired gardeners.


Thanks to Betsy for the pictures.

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Filed under Everyday Hedges, Historical Hedges

Ancient Hedges

At the hedgelaying competition someone asked me when the first hedges were made in history.

It’s hard to give a definitive answer to this – there is evidence of British field patterns that go back at least to the Bronze Age (for instance Zennor in Penwith), though these are as likely to be separated by banks as by hedges (in Cornwall, a “hedge” can be a stone-faced bank without any plants on it).

Some hedges are “assart hedges” meaning they date back to the original forest clearance and contain species that don’t generally grow outside of woodland. The age of such hedges varies, but the clearance of the wildwood goes back even further than the Bronze Age, to the neolithic period, about 6000 years ago.

My suggestion in the book is that the first hedges were neolithic – they had advanced woodcraft skills in this period as can be seen in the woven wood screens they used for buildings (“wattle and daub”) and other structures. This means they knew how to coppice wood, to cut trees back in order to use the flexible new growth that results. So at the very least they would probably have made “dead hedges” out of wood.

But dead hedges tend to turn into live ones as some types of wood reroot and other new plants grow in the protection of the barrier. And live hedges are much more effective than dead ones, so it seems probable that live, coppiced hedges would have been cultivated in this period. The skills of coppicing and weaving wood are close to the “pleaching” process used in hedgelaying, so they may well have laid hedges too.

(We do know that by the Roman period hedgelaying was in use in Northern Europe as Julius Caesar describes the Nervii tribe using their laid hedges as military defences against his army).

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Filed under Hedgelaying, Historical Hedges

Secret Hedge Cures Cancer

The Daily Mail are clearly fond of their giant hedge stories.

Apparently this one is the biggest yew hedge  in Britain (though not the tallest*, as that’s the Cirencester one I already posted about.)–giant-hedge-yields-600-fund.html

I do like the fact that its location is a “closely guarded secret”. I think I might know where it is, but I suppose it would be inappropriate to speculate.

(For any pedants offended my tabloid-style headline, I should concede that yew clippings don”t “cure cancer”, they are just used in the manufacture of drugs that help to fight cancer.)


*Edit – I originally described this as the tallest hedge in Britain, which is wrong, because the Meikleour hedge (which is beech) is much higher.

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Filed under Everyday Hedges, Notable Hedges

Bill Bryson on Hedges

“At least half the hedgerows of Britain pre-date the enclosure movement and perhaps as many as a fifth date back to Anglo-Saxon times.  Anyway, the reason for saving them isn’t because they have been there for ever and ever, but because they clearly and unequivocally enhance the landscape.  They are a central part of what makes England England.  Without them it would just be Indiana with steeples.”

Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island

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Filed under Historical Hedges, Literary Hedges

MP’s hedge expenses

Hedges don’t often make it onto the news, but while I was writing the first draft of my book, the scandal over MP’s expenses was neatly demonstrating the decadence of the British political elite – hilariously, one of the disputed claims featured was that of Sir Michael Spicer who claimed for having the hedge around his helipad trimmed.

He later said this was a “family joke”, though I’m not sure why he expected the family to be chuckling over his Commons expense claims. Just for the record, he also claimed the costs of “hanging a chandelier” at his home.

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Filed under Hedge Politics

Cotley Hunt Hedgelaying Competition

I spent part of yesterday at the Cotley Hunt Hedgelaying Competition.

It was lovely weather, the primroses were growing in the hedgebanks, and there were baby lambs in the fields. I got briefly lost in winding lanes on the way down from Crewkerne. The lanes are narrow, and often sunk between banks on both sides, suggesting this is “ancient countryside” and that the fields predate the enclosures.

The hedgelayers were on the Forde Abbey estate (just over the Somerset border into Dorset), working on three lengths of hedge. They were making Devon style hedges, on top of steep banks with ditches, which was great for me as it’s not a style I’ve seen first-hand before. Below are a few quick pictures of the event – I will put up more soon as there are some interesting series showing the process of plashing and so on.

Thanks to Mary Perry and Roger Parris, as well as to all the hedgelayers.(Apologies in advance if I have any names wrong).

Stuart Drew laying a pleacher

Stuart again, working on the same tree

Roger Vickery working with the billhook

Tina Bath clearing undergrowth in preparation

Various competitors and spectators

Hedgerow trees

This gives a good view of the bank the hedge is laid on top of.

Felix sharpening a stake (or crook)

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Birds and Hedges

Hedges are an important habitat for birds. Most birds that nest  in trees adapt to hedges if there is sufficient cover. Many original woodland species now rely on hedges for their habitat. Blackbirds, chaffinches, linnets, whitethroats and yellowhammers aren’t found in non-woodland areas without hedges. And many more species, including finches, thrushes, skylarks and jays can be found either nesting or feeding in hedges.

At my mother’s house recently I spent ages trying to take a decent picture of the horde of birds that flit in and out of her hedges. But they tended to see me coming and all disappear, so this is the only one I got where you can even see a bird, and because of the angle you can’t really see it’s a hedge.

I won’t be applying for a job as a wildlife photographer any time soon. I don’t have the patience.

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Filed under Hedges and Biodiversity