Hedgerows and hedgetrimmers

Where I live in Somerset it is dairy country – small fields and hedgerows interspersed with woods many of which are recently planted. Looking at it from the hill above our house I reflected that this is a landscape in transition and one that will look very different for our grandchildren than it did for our grandparents. For them, pre-war, it was a vale of hedgerows thick with trees – one every ten yards or so, mainly elms. Now the hedgerows remain, protected by law, but now largely denuded of trees. Elm disease cut the first swathe. The second has been more gradual but no less destructive: the mechanical hedge-cutter.

In our grandparents’ day hedges were cut by hand. They were allowed to grow out for a few years and then cut and laid in the winter with thorn shoots growing up to form a stock-proof fence every bit as impenetrable as a barb-wire. As the hedge-layer picked his way along and came across shoots of ash, oak or elm he  would leave it be – to grow ultimately into the mature trees that we now see but which are now at the end of their lives. The problem is that as they die they are no longer replaced. Instead the hedge-trimmer, the driver in a sap-spattered cab paid by the metre,  simply flails the hedge into a uniform shape taking no account of the saplings fighting to get up and out. The result? Lots of hedges – but no trees in them. Instead plenty of new woods planted in fields once considered to valuable for woodland.

What can you do if you own a mature hedgerow? I have found that a scaffolding pole placed vertically next to a potential oak or ash tree works wonders. Flails and scaffold poles don’t mix. Warn the contractor beforehand and you will see the fruits of your efforts in a handful of years.

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