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The Hedge Cutting Debate: Less Cutting More Management

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There are rules on when to cut a hedge. Hedge cutting is legally banned in the UK from 1st March to 31st August, in order to protect nesting birds on farms. In 2016, Defra made the decision to extend the hedge cutting ban to include the month of August.

This was based on analysis of bird nesting records provided by volunteers to the British Ornithology Trust. They identified buntings, Bullfinches and Linnets as likely to be active in nests until the end of August. In a call to repeal the August ban, a campaign supported by Farmers Weekly, the NFU and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), is questioning the “evidence” used to justify the non-cutting period.

Hedgerows are without a doubt a quintessential symbol of the British countryside. However, most of us are unaware of just how profoundly we have been affected by their introduction, as part of the Enclosures Act and then by their notorious destruction in post war Britain. These changes have influenced how we farm and produce food today.

Each hedge is different, with an abundance of flora, fauna and mycota, owing to the changes in soil, pH, moisture levels, climate, age and whether there’s a field margin, ditch and bank. Birds use hedges to nest in, as corridors to move across and as song posts from which they proclaim their territories. Hedgerows also provide food and shelter for many species of mammal and invertebrate, such as seeds and berries for Bank Voles and insects, spiders and woodlice for the Common Shrew.In addition to habitat benefits, the cut debris is a useful but often neglected biofuel for humans; hedges also keep stock in, protect against soil erosion and act as a windbreak to name just a few uses.

At one time, it was thought that hedgerows were just unproductive places that shaded crops, harboured pests, weeds and diseases and needed costly maintenance. Hedges were often removed because small fields were considered unsuitable for increasingly more specialised production, as farming moved away from the traditional mixed livestock and arable enterprises. Put simply, big machinery needs big fields in which to operate and many arable fields no longer need to be stock proofed. For many farmers, the positive impact of hedges for wildlife is now well established. However, outside a grant system, the volatility of farm profits and narrowed window for cutting and operating on land may prove problematic for those that rely on a subsidy and on external contractors to complete the work.

For the Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT), it’s not just when a hedge is cut that’s important but how often, when and how much it is cut – so less about hedge cutting and more about ‘hedge management’. The popular practice in farming has been to cut hedges straight after harvest.  This risks removing the berry crop before it is ripe and can be used by wildlife. Over-flailed hedges that are annually cut also remove the growth that would produce flowers in spring (and reduce the potential berry crop). Yet few hedges need to be cut every year – except to help with the thickening up process or when needed for roadside safety. According to Hedgelink UK, a two, three or four-year cycle can prove beneficial to wildlife, as well as being economically more efficient to a farm.

Berries often disappear between January and the beginning of March, and so February for many farmers remains the best time to cut a hedge. Frost or dry weather is possible at this time allowing hedge cutting even on arable lands. Research conducted in 1997, as part of a series of field trials on a CRT farm in Cambridgeshire, looking at field margins and hedge management showed that running over a crop deliberately in March led to increased yield due to tillering. This was shared in a pocket guide created for farmers called “Hedgerow and Field Margin Management” produced by The Countryside Restoration Trust and The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.

In essence there are many ways to manage a hedge successfully, including laying a hedge in a traditional way (further information can be found here) or coppicing on a longer cycle to produce firewood logs.

According to Dr. Vince Lea, Head of Wildlife Monitoring at the CRT, “having a variety of shapes and sizes of hedge will benefit the greatest range of species on a farm, from tightly clipped to overgrown but it’s important to understand the farm’s objectives. If shade is a worry, allow hedges running roughly north-south to grow large, while keeping east-west hedgerows shorter. Fundamentally hedgerows are ‘managed habitats’ and should be integrated into a farm’s plan, not seen as a nuisance to be managed separately. The network of habitat connections provided by hedgerows allow wildlife to move across the landscape; more important than ever as species’ distributions move northwards in response to climate change. That’s why it’s so important to protect the farmed countryside, its wildlife and to value the people with the knowledge and skills to look after it”.

The CRT are hoping to re-print the “Farmer’s Pocket Guide to Hedgerow and Field Margin Management” as a special edition and make it available in a digital format as part of our Silver Jubilee Year, in 2018.

Please register your interest here if you would like to receive a free copy.

Walking for the Dorset Dream

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Elaine Spencer-White is not letting the Cotwolds get in the way of her ambition to help us reach our Dorset Dream.

Having taken on the 78 mile Wessex Ridge in 2016, Elaine Spencer-White is once again donning her walking boots as she takes on a new challenge in support of the Gordon Beningfield Dorset Farm Appeal.

On the 28th April, Elaine will be walking the Cotswold Way, a 102 mile National Trail along the Cotswold Escarpment. Starting in Chipping Campden, she should arrive in Bath eight days later.

We caught up with Elaine to learn all about this incredible challenge…

Elaine, please tell us a bit about the challenge and what will it involve?

Elaine: “I am hiking 102 miles along the Cotswold Way over 8 days.  It is the first of Britain’s National Trails that runs along the Escarpment crossing some truly beautiful country and through historic ‘honey-stoned’ villages and market towns.

The challenge is three fold – one, I have an artificial knee, two the trail is far from flat and I shall be walking solo over an average daily distance of 15 miles”.

How are you preparing for this challenge?

Elaine: “I’ve been ‘in training’ since Christmas – walking at least 5 miles a day and swimming a mile once a week”.

Why have you chosen to fundraise for the CRT?

Elaine: “I’ve been a Friend of the CRT for the past 5 years and I live in Dorset.  Since the 1980’s I’ve been familiar with Gordon Beningfield’s work and own a number of his books.  So, when the Dorset Farm Appeal was launched in January 2015, it just made sense to add my support to the Appeal through adding sponsorship to a defined, challenging walk. This well be the third – having walked 150 miles along the Thames Path in 2015, and 78 cross-country miles along the Wessex Ridgeway (through Gordon’s much loved Hardy Country) last year”.

What does the Dorset Farm Appeal mean to you?

Elaine: “My career was working within the ‘’field of agriculture’. The initial decade in farm administration in SW Wiltshire, then twenty years in agricultural development in southern Africa, returning to the UK for thirteen years developing a sustainable, branded local food supply chain on the Somerset Levels and Moors. I have always supported conservation charities in both the UK and Africa. The Dorset Farm Appeal wraps both career and personal interest into one – in the county where I live; a ‘no brainer’ for it to have my whole-hearted support”.

When is the challenge taking place?

Elaine: “I leave Chipping Camden on Friday 28th April and will reach Bath on Thursday 4th May”.

What is the best way for people to offer their support?

Elaine: “The key means of support would be to add their donation to the Dorset Farm Appeal – which can be done on line by clicking here.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Elaine for choosing to once again support the CRT and for helping us to realise our Dorset Dream.

We will following Elaine’s progress during her walk on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so make sure you like our pages to keep up to date with how she is getting on. If you would like to sponsor Elaine, please visit her Virgin Money page here.

Kempley Daffodil Festival

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The CRT is taking part in the Kempley Daffodil Festival walks on the weekend of the 18 and 19 March 2017.

A section of the walk crosses Awnells Farm in Much Marcle, and Viv Geen, the Monitoring Officer with the CRT in Herefordshire, is leading a guided walk across this section; talking about the wildlife and traditional Hereford cattle on the farm.  Join the walk and learn about this beautiful countryside.

Please note: all walks start from Kempley.

For further details please click here.

Twyford Bluebell Day

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7th May 2017, 11am-4pm
Twyford Farm, Birchgrove, Horsted Keynes, West Sussex, RH17 7DJ

Enjoy a celebration of the Twyford Bluebells; with local food and craft stalls, demonstrations and talks, guided walks. The day is free of charge and is a great opportunity to get outdoors, embrace the great English summertime and keep the family entertained! Read More

Become a CRT Trustee

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This is an exciting opportunity to join the Countryside Restoration Trust’s Board of Trustees.

Do you have recent and relevant financial experience – including a good understanding of developing financial strategy, ethical investment policy and financial controls principles?

Do you have a professional accountancy qualification or demonstrable equivalent experience?

Do you have experience and an understanding of regulations and compliance in terms of financial reporting for the charity sector including knowledge of the new SORP 2015 and its implications for CRT’s reporting requirements?
Then we could use your help! Read More

2017 Events coming soon

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The CRT hold numerous events throughout the year across all of of our properties.

2017 will also see the relaunch of our Friends’ Events programme, which will include events such as a Lamb and Cowslip Walk with Robin Page, talks, wildlife walks and farming demonstrations.

Dates for all of our events taking place in 2017 will be announced soon.

To keep up to date with CRT news, why not subscribe to our e-newsletter, by filling in your details below:

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Water Shrews break 17 year absence

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Water Shrews have returned to the Bourn Brook at Lark Rise Farm following an absence of seventeen years.

The findings were identified by CRT’s Head of Monitoring, Dr Vince Lea, a team of CRT monitors and the Cambridgeshire Mammal Group  as they undertook a small mammal trapping survey in Nan’s Meadow on Lark Rise Farm this past weekend. The survey carried out was actually a repeat survey of one conducted two years ago which involved the use of seventy two traps which were operated over two nights. However, the results were somewhat different with previous findings revealing a high quantity of field voles, a moderate number of Wood and Harvest Mice, but only a small number of Shrews. Read More

2017 Events Coming Soon

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The Countryside Restoration Trust are very excited to once again be holding a Reindeer Event in association with Bury Lane Farm Shop on Thursday December 1st 2016.

This year we are moving away from our usual evening event and holding something which we believe is far more in line with our ethos and what our charity stands for. The event will therefore focus fully on the beautiful Cairngorm Reindeer, their wellbeing, the conservation surrounding them and informing children that reindeer are not just for Christmas!

We will be holding the event during the day between 11am and 3pm, to fit in with the Reindeers’ natural waking hours and routine. We will also be able to engage with younger children who were unable to see the reindeer on previous events and invite schools to come and learn about these creatures as part of their curriculum. With many reindeer being kept in unsuitable conditions throughout the year, we believe that the Cairngorm Reindeer should be celebrated as the only free ranging herd of Reindeer in the UK and we would like to focus on educating visitors on the importance of this, especially during the festive season.

We have invited local schools to come and see the Reindeer and learn all about their natural behaviour and how they survive in the wild…each child will be provided with a learning pack filled with useful information about the Cairngorm Reindeer herd and a puzzle book, so they can put their newly acquired knowledge to the test! If you are a teacher and would like to bring a class to the event, please contact us as soon as possible to book a slot.

Anybody is welcome to come and visit the Reindeer, so why not make it an extra excuse to visit Bury Lane Farm Shop, have a coffee and make a start on your Christmas shopping!

Where: Bury Lane Farm Shop, A10 Bypass, Melbourn, Royston, Herts, SG8 6DF
When: Thursday 1st December, 11am-3pm

Rustics Brave the Rain…

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With the rain pelting down in sheets on Saturday, we were expecting the Rustics meeting to be something of a damp squib…how wrong we were!

By 10am we had a group of a dozen hardy volunteers, not perturbed by the rain and fully dedicated to the job in hand – hedge laying.

Hedgelaying is the only hedgerow maintenance method currently available which promotes regrowth from ground level and which will ensure the health and longevity of the hedgerow, unlike flailing/mechanical cutting will can irreversibly damage individual plants. It is hugely important as it promotes a much thicker regrowth and therefore provides greater habitat for nesting birds and small mammals. This denser regrowth also protects smaller birds and mammals from larger predators, who are unable to penetrate the thicker hedge, as well as providing a greater yield of berries creating an increased food source. The National Hedgelaying Society states that “hedges are important for our wildlife, environmental, heritage and scenic value. A well managed hedgerow is thick and bushy, an impenetrable barrier to sheep and cattle and a haven for wildlife”. Read More