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Hedging our bets?



In recent years the amount of information about hedges has multiplied by a billion! (Yes, maths was never my strongest strength!). But you know what I mean... From something that did not seem to focus much in the minds of many, it is now at the very forefront of the news. Everyone is interested in these iconic, often ancient, important wildlife habitats and places of carbon capture. England's hedges would go around Earth ten times (msn.com)

Which is GREAT NEWS!


Recently, for Coquetdale Wildlife Trust, Megan Gimber gave an excellent, exuberant talk about her love of hedges. I was so excited to listen to such a knowledgeable enthusiast. The next day, she was fortunate to be taken to see some of the amazing work taking place in Coquetdale. She says: A recent visit to Northumberland had me flabbergasted at the difference one person can make. In an area perhaps not known for the quality of its hedges, (is that fair?) I knew I’d arrived at the right farm when the hedges changed from the over-trimmed, top heavy, sheep browsed, and leggy to big, billowing, thick and fruit-filled. (Megan is People's Trust for Endangered Species Habitat Officer).


Can you guess where she was? (You will find the answer at the end). Have you spotted any great hedges lately?

If you have, you are lucky...


On Wednesday 24th January there was a debate in Parliament entitled:

Hedgerows: Legal Protection.

It was introduced by Selaine Saxby, MP for North Devon. In her introduction she says: There are few legal protections to prevent poor hedgerow management practices. When I was a councillor, I was contacted every year without fail about the cutting of local hedgerows. The problem is that the lack of a landscape criterion means that locally distinctive hedgerows are not protected and local authorities are often powerless to retain them. According to CPRE, more than half of local authorities feel that existing exceptions for built development lead to unacceptable or avoidable hedgerow loss.

Not only is it interesting, but it is very informative about why our hedges are in the state they are, and how farmers are the key to improving them. But it is quite shocking to discover the hoops they have to jump through, and the losses they endure. Frightening!


Tim Farron, (Westmorland and Lonsdale) said: The hedgerow options and the approach to hedgerows through the ELM scheme transition is emblematic of lots of other aspects of this transition. While they are laudable and good, they are not remotely capable of replacing a fraction of the income that farmers are losing. I was with farmers in Appleby recently. The least badly affected of them reckoned that through the various ELM schemes he could replace 60% of what he had lost. The average figure for which farmers thought they could replace what they had lost through the transition was less than 10%.


What do those farmers end up doing? Well, they go bust or their mental health ends up in a terrible, terrible state. I am truly frightened for the state of the mental health of many of the farmers in my communities—really frightened. This is not helping at all. The pressure will also lead them to make poorer decisions. If someone sees their income receding, what do they do? What do they have to intensify? They may feel against all their better instincts that they have to rip out hedges in order to maximise short-term value from the land, which I fear is happening. While these are laudable schemes, they are not even remotely attractive enough to draw people into them. They are bureaucratic and do not replace the genuine income that has been foregone, and so people are voting with their feet—like I say, 10% are in SFI. Meanwhile, my upland livestock farmers have lost 41% of their income under the Government in this Parliament.


I do recommend you read, or listen, it is a very interesting debate which you can find here:Hedgerows: Legal Protection - Hansard - UK Parliament



Also worth a read, if you are interested in Farming Policy around hedges:


Stunning hedge!


I am sure that if you are reading this, you already know about the benefits of hedges. They provide wildlife corridors, they help with water retention, and of course, they are excellent in helping livestock - browsing, but also both for shade in the summer, and shelter in the winter. This is a nice 3-minute video from Hedgelink, which explains The Benefits of Hedgerows in rural areas: https://youtu.be/MY3CIUr7CnI

This blog could go on forever, like the length of the hedges reaching round the earth so many times! But I do not want to bore you, so I will bring it to an end.

Which was that fabulous example, though? The wonderful Coquetdale hedge?

Well, who do you know who is great at hedge-laying?

Who grows and sells the seeds of these:


Yes, of course, it is Kevin Wharf - who is also brilliant at hedge-laying and is very generous in sharing his knowledge of this important skill.

Hedge Laying Megan Gimber tells us:

Kevin manages his hedges on a laying rotation. The young hedges are left to grow for 10 or so years after planting, at which point they are layed. To me, this is the best way to establish a good young hedge; it’s a great opportunity to remove the spiral tubes (honestly, there is never a good time for that job otherwise!). The regrowth thickens up the base as the 5-6 whips planted all regrow multi-stemmed, making for a much more robust hedge in the long term. A layed hedge also stores more carbon. But this wasn’t the main reason for this approach here. Kevin tells me that the leggy 70cm of stems at the bottom of the hedge, branchless due to the spiral tubes, act like a wind tunnel and funnel the wind directly at lamb height. Laying them is the best way to get rid of this legginess, (called a high base canopy) and protect the lambs in spring storms.


(Note to myself, Megan writes 'layed' not 'laid'. I need to explore this).


You can read Megan's full account of her trip to Kevin's farm here Exploring some exemplary hedges in Northumberland - PTES


Further reading: About Us | Hedgelink




Hawthorn


Hawthorn, cut and leggy

Beautiful ! (Not Northumberland). I would love to find examples of Northumberland hedges like this - if you see any, please get in touch.


Rothbury CAN group ROWANS have been planting hedges for wildlife corridors around Rothbury Community Hospital, and the Cemetery. If you wish to know more about their work, look at their page at www.rothburycan.org


Thank you for reading.

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