This week’s post is rather different from all those I have posted in the past – it’s to do with ‘Hedgerows’! Here in Britain the hedge laying season runs from September 1st to the end of February so, as you read this, the season is almost over.
In the post of 15th January last I talked about Plough Sunday & Plough Monday. This was/is a particularly British event as far as I can establish. Now I know that there are followers of these posts in many places across the world – something I am very proud about – and all counties have a need to define areas for privacy and for animal and crop controls. These definitions can be of stone, brick, barbed wire, electric wires and, as long as they serve their purpose that’s fine. However, they can be unsightly, dangerous, expensive to create and maintain or just plain ineffective. A hedge can do all that these can do – and make an area a thing of beauty as well.
Hedges are not recent additions to the landscape. In 55BC Julius Caesar recorded the fact that the ‘Nervii’ tribe that lived in northern Gaul (Flanders) at the time of its conquest by Rome: ‘Cut into slender trees and bent them over so that many branches came out along the length; they finished this off by inserting brambles and briars, so that these hedges formed a defence like wall, which could not only not be penetrated but not even seen through.’
The word ‘Hedge’ is actually derived from the ancient English ‘hege’ or the Anglo Saxon ‘haga’. These were planted as boundary markers; as shelter for men or animals, as fences to keep animals – or people – in or out of an area. They were also very useful for defensive purposes!
As farming developed hedges became an essential part of agriculture – marking field and ownership boundaries and also creating stock-proof barriers and complete enclosure. Almost as a by-product the hedges provided food for man, livestock and nature’s creatures with fruits and berries. These same hedges provided cover and a habitat for a whole range of birds and mammals.
Barbed Wire was first patented in the United States in 1867. By the end of the 19th century it was in use in Britain. A person or animal trying to pass through or over barbed wire would soon realise that it was not a good idea. To the farmer it was a very good idea. This fencing required just fence posts, wire, and fixing devices such as staples. It was also simple to construct and quick to erect, even by an unskilled person.
In the 1950’s machines were developed for cutting and trimming the hedges. However, but by the end of the decade they were being used to cut them down completely. The demand for land for intensive food production was more important. It was not until the end of the century – 1997 to be precise – that legislation was put in place to protect hedgerows.
Now hedgerows are to be seen in many many places – surrounding private gardens, protecting special places. Last winter a dedicated team where I live laid out a new hedge for protection between a free ‘green’ area and the town cemetery. Both benefitted and now – one year on – it looks great. Now in its’ second year we can expect birds to be nesting there as they do in so many other hedges across the country.
As well as marking boundary’s hedges give protection and location to wild flowers whose sight and scent can be enjoyed throughout the summer. Then, winter approaches and hedge trimming, repairing and planting begins again. A part of the beautiful British rural and urban landscapes.