Tuesday, 28 January 2014

All you need to know about hedges

Hedges in West Lonning, Crosby
THE news this week that David Cameron is wielding his scythe through red tape surrounding hedgerow maintenance will be welcomed by many – and viewed with some nervousness by others.
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.



Monday, 27 January 2014

Cumbrian young writers competition

Theatre by the Lake in Keswick is launching a competition encouraging budding young playwrights to put pen to paper.

The Young Writers’ Competition is a new initiative which invites short play submissions from Cumbrian writers aged 14 – 25. Theatre by the Lake will select up to five talented entrants who will get the chance to develop their play with the support of experienced theatre makers, before it is performed by the theatre’s Young Actors’ company in 2015. Winners will also receive a pair of free tickets to the opening night of The Comedy of Errors, one of the theatre’s Summer Season productions.

The theme for the competition is ‘Swings and Roundabouts’, which writers can interpret in any way they wish. Throughout February and March the Theatre by the Lake website will feature tips and tricks to help writers construct their plays.

Annie McCourt, Head of Theatre by the Lake’s Education and Participation team, said: “this is a superb opportunity for local young playwrights to get creative and respond to a brief, just like in a real-life writing commission. The winners will receive professional mentoring, which will be invaluable to the development of their writing skills. It’s especially exciting that the finished products will feature in our February Festival of Youth in 2015 – as a writer there’s nothing better than seeing your ideas in action. I can’t wait to start reading the entries!”

Competition entrants must be aged 14 – 25 and live in Cumbria. Submissions need to be playscripts, running at no longer than 20 minutes and suitable for actors aged 14 – 18. Plays should be written for a maximum of 8 performers.

For more information, visit www.theatrebythelake.com/participate/youngwriters 

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Stepping back in time

Watery Lonning, Blindcrake, Cumbria
THE nice thing about researching Cumbrian lonnings (a dialect term for green lanes or footpaths) is that you keep coming across 'new' ones. My map lists all those I have found so far but please let me know of any I have missed out. (I know any 'footpath' is in essence a lonning but I'm only listing those that have been referred to or named as a 'lonning'). At the weekend I picked up a copy of "A History & Survey of Blindcrake, Isel and Redmain" by Horace E Winter. A wonderfully detailed survey of these villages near Cockermouth - and one printed so long ago (1987)  that it was done on a Gestetner printer. It made mention of Watery Lonning at Blindcrake (and Back Lonning) so on Sunday afternoon we headed out to find it. The lonning is delightful but certainly lives up to its name. You'll need boots or Wellingtons if you're going to go down this at the moment. Is this why Watery Lonnings (there are two or three) got their name? It seems to a be a deliberate run-off from the fields above it - probably saving the village from flooding. The village itself is rather nice but I have to admit it has been blighted by a plague of wooden outbuildings and garden sheds. The historic homes are perfectly set around an ancient village green but in almost every garden is some hideous 'office' or conservatory totally out of keeping with the rest of the property and village. Anyway, rant over and back to the lonning. 
It's a lane with a decent stone floor but is currently swimming in mud and water. It struck me as a very English lonning. It's full of bushes, shrubs, trees and remnants of stone walls. It's also crammed full with birds. There are sparrows, chaffinches, blue tits and so much more everywhere you look. Then, we heard what I thought at first was a tractor - a sort of metallic sound - from the adjacent fields. It turned out to be several hundred fieldfare (but I'm no ornithologist so they may have been thrushes!). The 'swarm' was astonishing to watch as it rose from the fields and took off over our heads into the trees. The fields themselves are some of the best examples of ridge and furrow strip fields - a rare remnant of the middle ages. The lonning itself is probably a third of a mile long and a joy to walk down. Stand still every now and again to observe the birds. The end did have a partial gate across it though I'm not sure why. Perhaps people had been driving cars down it as a 'cut through' or sheep had been wandering out of the lane. But as that last stretch looked particularly wet and muddy we stopped there anyway and turned back. The lonning leads to 'Back Lane' which is a narrow country lane taking you back to the A595. The other lonning in the village is Back Lonning which is beside Thorneycroft house at the south of the village. It seems to be a private driveway. This is one lonning I'll be returning to over and over again - just so peaceful (except for all the fieldfare!). If you want to visit Watery Lonning the grid references are NY147 347 to NY142 346.