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.
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.