Monthly Archives: March 2012

Flail cutting – the environmental damage it causes

One of the most damaging post-war developments in hedgerow preservation was the increase in mechanised cutting of hedges, in particular using the flail. Here is a picture of a blackthorn hedge that has recently been flailed (picture by Donato Cinicolo). The damage is obvious.

Traditionally hedges were either trimmed or laid by hand. This was laborious work, but it was done with care and attention to the individual plants. Flail cutting means that hedge trees are repeatedly cut at the same point, this causes them to become gnarled and unhealthy, and can lead to a decline in the quality of the hedge (with resultant loss of biodiversity in the local environment). It also leads to a loss of mature hedgerow trees (as the older hedgerow trees die out and insufficient younger specimens are allowed to grow to maturity).

One can understand the problems farmers face in a more intensive farming environment – hedgelaying is the most effective way to maintain a hedge but is considerably more expensive than machine cutting.

There have been some improvements in the guidelines farmers follow when cutting hedges. The Tree Council suggest tagging trees to be allowed to grow to maturity, there are guidelines on how often a hedge should be cut and so on. However the most effective way of protecting our hedges would be to change the way that  subsidies for hedgelaying are administered.

Currently there are two government schemes encouraging good environmental practice to which farmers can belong. The schemes are called Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS). Subsidies for hedgelaying are only available to HLS members,  a scheme that is restricted to certain landscapes and areas, such as heathland, moorland, coastal land, wetland, and small woodlands, especially where these exist on or adjacent to Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

It would cost money to extend hedgelaying subsidies to members of the more common scheme, the ELS, but it would be a simple and effective way to direct help to hedgerows in all areas, and to foster the art of hedgelaying*.

These are difficult economic times, but if as a nation we are going to place obligations on farmers as stewards of the land, it is only reasonable that we sometimes share the costs involved. Hedgelaying is not a cheap or easy process, but it makes a huge difference to our environment.

*This idea was suggested to me by Robin Dale of the National Hedgelaying Society.


Filed under Hedgelaying, Hedges and Biodiversity, Rural Britain

Six Weeks to Go

It’s been a long and winding road, but the book (Hedge Britannia) will finally be published on 10th May. It is being printed right now, so I am looking forward to seeing copies.

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Filed under Historical Hedges, Literary Hedges

Hedge(s) of the Day

I always enjoy seeing all the different ways that people trim the hedges of their front gardens. I can’t help seeing them as quite psychologically revealing – some people like to keep their hedges rigidly trimmed in rather repressed box shapes, while others give free rein to their creative side when confronted with a hedge and a trimmer.

Here’s a couple that are in the book:

I like the way this takes the basic box-shaped hedge but does something more playful with it, using the topiary bushes to create something a bit more elaborate.

Whereas curves can also be used to create interesting effects – I very much like the way these two hedges set each other off.

I’ll put some more up as I go along. My (10-year-old) daughter always laughs when I open up my camera folders on the computer as they are so full of pictures of hedges, so there’s plenty more where these came from…

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Filed under Everyday Hedges, Topiary

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops on Radio 4

Here’s a link to the edition of Open Book with Jen Campbell, author of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops. She’s towards the end of the program.

I’ve just spent the last hour stuffing envelopes with free copies of the book for all the people who work in bookshops and contributed their own weird experiences to the book.

For everyone else, it will be in shops next week, or can be seen on Amazon here.


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Dodie Smith and Weird Things – Open Book

This week’s edition of Open Book on Radio 4 had an interesting chat about Dodie Smith – slightly odd because her biographer Valerie Grove was one of the guests and she really doesn’t seem to like Dodie very much, maybe it’s a knock-on effect of too much time spent studying her extensive journals. Happily Heidi Thomas, who adapted I Capture The Castle for cinema, took a rather more positive view. Either way, it’s nice to see some attention being paid to her life and books.

This week’s Open Book also has one of my authors, as Jen Campbell author of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops will be on the show.

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Monster Spotted in Hedge

Tony Govier has sent me this rather lovely picture, which appears to show some kind of antediluvian monster looming up from behind the hedgerow.

Tony writes: “it’s an old gnarled tree, but what an interesting shape!, quite eerie in a lonely country road!” Here’s a closer view:

And a slightly different angle…

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Filed under Everyday Hedges

Lyme Regis – Museums at Night

On May 19th, I’ve been asked to go down to Lyme Regis for a Museums at Night event, which sounds like great fun. It’s not a town I’ve ever been to but I know the Jane Austen quote:

“A very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better.”

One of my colleagues tells me the museum is rather lovely too, so I will look forward to that visit (thanks to the PR people at Bloomsbury who’ve organised it to tie in with the book’s publication in May).


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