at Southornwell, North Huish
Hedges are one of the really special things about this area. We have over 2,500 miles (4,000km) of them in the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). That’s 12 miles length of hedge to every one square mile of land. They give the land its patchwork pattern.
Some of the hedges were landownership boundaries in the Bronze Age, around 4,000 years ago. Many more were built in the Middle Ages, over 500 years ago. The most recent were built when open areas of cliff top were finally divided up into smaller field parcels in the 19th Century.
Hedges are superhighways for wildlife including dormice, bats and rare cirl buntings. In spring the roadside hedges are ablaze with primroses, bluebells and stitchwort. Many hedges have blackthorn, hazel, wild rose and hawthorn shrubs growing on top. Some have taller trees such as oak, ash and sycamore.
The Complete Hedge Good Management Guide covering every aspect of hedges has been produced by the Devon Hedge Group. It’s well worth dipping into.
In 2002 our office set up the first ever survey of hedges in the AONB. We wanted to find out what our hedges are and what condition they are in.
For teachers Devon County Council has produced Hedgeucation a useful teaching tool which addresses many topics within the national curriculum which aims to enthuse and educate children about the unique hedgerows that make Devon so special.
Many farmers are actively restoring their hedges using grant schemes like Countryside Stewardship for doing hedge-laying, coppicing, casting up and fencing.
Devon Hedge Group formed in 1994 as a forum to increase awareness about hedges and provide advice, education and training.
Devon Rural Skills Trust runs a great programme of short training courses about hedge laying and other traditional skills for beginners and improvers.
Like almost everywhere in Britain, many miles of hedges were taken out during the agricultural improvements following the Second World War. This largely stopped when the 1997 Hedgerow Regulations gave legal protection to most hedges. So nowadays there are four different problems.
One is neglect. About 36% are in poor or semi-derelict condition, as they gradually slump or get pulled apart by livestock and falling trees. The second is too-close flailing, which can prevent a dense shrub layer forming.
Thirdly, the use of agricultural fertilizers enriches the soils so much that rare and small flowers in the adjoining hedges get outcompeted by more aggressive nettles and cleavers. Finally, hedges in narrow lanes can get badly damaged at passing places and by the passage of large vehicles.
If you have any material about hedges that you would like to provide for our website, we would be pleased to hear from you.