Hedgerows

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


Hedgerow: n. a hedge of wild shrubs and occasional trees bordering a field. 

If you live in Britain or Ireland, or the Low Countries and Northern France then don't take your native hedgerows for granted. Other countries don't have them. I hadn't appreciated this fact until a reader from America asked me to write about them.


I live on what was once farmland.  All that remains of that farmland are the ancient hedgerows that used to separate the fields and meadows. All the pictures in this post were taken within half a mile of my house.
When I say ancient I am not exaggerating. Our native hedgerows are indeed ancient.
The rule of thumb for dating a hedgerow is known as Hooper's Hypothesis. It says that in a 30 yard stretch of hedgerow the number of woody species multiplied by 110 will give you the rough age of the hedgerow. So, as you can see you only have to have four species, for example; hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel and oak, for the hedgerow to have been established in 1600.
Some of the hedgerows I walk along everyday are Shakespearean.





'Unkempt about those hedges blows
An English unofficial rose'
Rupert Brooke: from The Old Vicarage, Grantchester

I was too late to capture the roses in bloom, but there are many unofficial roses amongst my local hedgerows. Brooke's contemporary Edmund Blunden described some of the common hedgerow plants in 1935

'If we never win a Test match again, we shall still have the world's finest hedges!'
'Their white and red may, their bramble-roses, their wild-apple bloom, their honeysuckles, their traveller's joy, have been the spring of the year to most of us more inseparably than any other aspect of the season'

 All the plants he mentions can be found in the hedgerows near me. The may he mentions, is, of course hawthorn which is probably the backbone of a British hedgerow.  Also common in my area are damsons, wild plums or bullaces, sloes or blackthorn, cherries, oak, hazel, ivy, elder, willow and ash. Elm was widespread in the Midlands until it was wiped out by Dutch elm disease.
At the base of the hedgerows grow nettles, blackberries, cow parsley, jack-by-the-hedge and rosebay willow herb.



'If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now.
 It's just the spring clean of the May Queen'*
or more probably it is one of the
600 species of plant
65 species of bird
20 species of mammal including, naturally, the hedgehog
that have been recorded living in hedgerows.
15000 species of insect also depend on hedgerows 40 of which are butterflies.


Wild plums

Haws reddening already

The hawthorn in flower a couple of months ago.

For more information 

* Apologies to Led Zeppelin. That is of course from Stairway to Heaven.

24 comments:

  1. but don't forget - Hooper's rule only applies to pre 1990 hedges! Since then, most hedges are planted with a number of different species of shrub!

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  2. Anonymous11:07 pm BST

    Lovely post, Sue. We don't appreciate our hedgerows enough and just take them for granted. Let's all look at them with new eyes.

    Tasha

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  3. What a beautiful post, and a timely reminder to appreciate the hedgerows roundabout us. Luckily I live in a village that still has a patchwork of tiny fields skirting it, all with their enclosure hedgerows intact, and hedgerows line the lanes that are much, much older. There is a blackthorn thicket around one stile that's so thick it must have been there for many centuries, and still it produces an abundance of sloes. Brilliant wild food stores, our hedgerows, don't you think? :D

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  4. Wow, this is amazing! I loved reading about hedgerows. Near where we live in Australia there are many old fruit trees, planted long ago, still standing after the houses have gone. Pears, apples, plums, all shared by birds and people. I love to come across them on walks, a little reminder of lives once lived, of another time xo

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  5. Thank you for the lovely post Sue. I live in America and despite being quite an anglophile, I have always hedgerows to be the equivalent of what we call hedges. I didn't realize they actually divided land areas and were historic.

    I so enjoy your blog. You are inspiring to me with your handwork and cooking skills. I love checking in to see what you've been up to.

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  6. Oh thankyou for the lovely pics! I LOVE hedgerows and although we have quite a few here in Tasmania (Aust) they are no where near as old as yours and usually only have hawthorn, maybe a wild plum and an escaped apple tree. I'm hoping to plant one along our front paddock fence and who knows - in 100 years it might be considered a novelty!

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  7. Fascinating Post, I understand the ecological importance of hedges but I learnt so much from this post. I would never have pondered hedgerows to this degree without your post.

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  8. Those wild plums look pretty amazing, I'd definitely be out to try and collect them once they're ripe. Do you find many people collect the fruit from the hedges near you?

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  9. I've seen people picking damsons and blackberries but not the plums. Those plums have now turned red. I shall pick some to see what they're like.

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  10. Did you see the nature programme on Monday evening presented by Chris Packham? It was all about farmlands and disappearing hedgerows and how it affects wildlife. It was quite sad really.

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  11. Brilliant Sue. I loved this post as our hedgerows are one of my favourite things to spend time foraging x

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  12. We have a little area close to where I live that has dry walls and 'hedgerows' not like yours of course but close enough that it satisfies that part of me that wants to be in the UK in summer. Beautiful photos once again.
    x Sandi

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  13. I love out local hedgerows, they offer up a lovely free harvest in autumn after making me dizzy with happiness in spring when they bloom.

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  14. Anonymous11:16 am BST

    The plums look like cherry plums. We have them at Hanbury. They are delicious. ME

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  15. Sue your talents run deep and wide. Your post has given me a new appreciation of our native hedgerows. I love the ones in Ireland too planted with vibrant fuchia's and THE most gorgeous Ivy. I live on farmland too, and in summer our hedges are alive with the sound of birds nesting. Long may our hedgerows continue. Have you ever read anything by Adam Nicolson? he has such a feel for our native countryside. I feel sure you would love his books.

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  16. What a wonderful post, I loved the combination of photos and poetry! Judith x
    PS I found 3 ripe blackberries yesterday! Delicious.

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  17. PS

    Sue I forgot to say - you are responsible for a new family addiction to Chocolate Brownies - how do you sleep at nights? They are so seriously good that a friend who is trying to cut down, came for coffee and ate two! I am stocking up with Green and Black's cocoa just in case.

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  18. Thanks Susan :o) but that brownie recipe isn't my own creation. I linked to the original from Jules at Stonesoup.

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  19. Ah I realise that Sue BUT if you hadn't put it on your blog I would never have seen it and we would be none the wiser. I wasn't thin to start with!

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  20. Our hedgegrows are so precious and are under threat from intensive farming. Save the Hedgerows!

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  21. Thanks for that Sue, I didn't know quite a bit of that! We should look after them though shouldn't we? We would definitely miss them when they are gone - along with our wild life. Realising how old some of them are certainly makes you think a bit; landscape really is a link to the past.

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  22. Oh, that was a great post. Thank you.

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  23. Plenty of hedgerows on my property and I'm repairing and replanting as many as possible...beautiful things indeed.

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  24. I love hedgerows. Lovely and informative post and lovely pictures. With the “green” movement there are sometimes new hedgerows "built" over here, all naturally by just making a heap of dead wood that “collects” seeds and is so the start for what will look like those you pictured in yeeeeaaaars. In northern Germany the hedgerows along the fields are even more common as here down in the south as it is windier and flatter there and the dense hedges keep the wind from blowing out the soil (might be the same for the Netherlands and France).

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