|Hedges in West Lonning, Crosby|
Most people understand that hedgerows are important for the survival of birds, mammals and flora but few perhaps understand the complexity of the humble hedge.
How timely then that the 11th North Cumberland Style Hedgelaying competition is taking place on Saturday, February 15 at Abbeytown. You’ll note that this is a competition devoted to Cumberland-style hedgelaying. Lovers of Westmorland-style hedgelaying should stay away. What’s the difference? Cumberland hedgelayers cut all but the main stems away, while Westmorland enthusiasts retain many of the minor stems – tch! what do they know.
And there are 30 hedge-laying styles throughout the country, mostly divided by county.
Wildlife in Cumbria estimate there are between 16,500 and 22,500km of hedgerow in the county and while some is lost to the axe in favour of barbed wire fencing, just as much is lost because the hedge is left alone. It ‘collapses’ in on itself or simply grows into a line of trees.
So why have hedges at all? Barbed wire fences are effective, of course, at keeping cattle and sheep in a field – although I’ve seen some impressive high-jumping by sheep to escape fences – but they don’t provide shelter.
And while hedges provide that shelter, the challenge for the farmer is cattle leaning against a hedge to force an escape route and sheep burrowing at the base of the hedge to get out. And that’s where the strategy, techniques and skills of the hedgelayers come in which you’ll be able to witness first-hand at the Abbeytown hedgelaying competition.
A well-laid hedge also provides a perfect ‘corridor’ for wildlife. Wildlife in Cumbria lists the following flora in the county’s hedgerows: hawthorn, hazel, blackthorn, crab apple, dog rose, ash, oak, holly, wild cherry, bird cherry, bramble and guelder rose.
While wildlife nestling inside the hedgerows includes everything form sparrows, bats, bullfinches, spotted flycatchers, barn owls, linnets and – of course – the hedgehog.
In my wanderings down Cumbria’s lonnings, I’ve seen goldfinches and greenfinches pour in and out of hedges in phenomenal numbers.
My heart sinks when I see the lethal barbed wire replacing a beautiful natural hedge and it’s not unusual to see the rotting corpses of birds or mammals hanging from the wire. I’m aware of the story (is it a countryside myth?) that some farmers hang corpses to deter other birds but I’m sure other creatures are just caught accidentally on the wire dying a lingering death.
A good hedge will last 50 years and is a wonderful haven for many species. We may not need all the legislation currently on our statue books but we certainly need the craft and the encouragement for landowners to spend time and money on it.