The land between Roman Hill and the petrol station alongside the A603 is part of the Countryside Restoration Trust’s Lark Rise Farm. Even before we took on this land in 1998 the roadside hedge was large and had been unmanaged for many years, and we have done little to it in our 20 years. This may sound like neglect, or it may sound like what we should be doing to encourage wildlife on farmland, as the hedge has become spectacularly enormous! This year we have started managing the hedge, but we shall be doing it in small chunks over the next few years by hand to rejuvenate it, without destroying all the dense habitat at once. We are using traditional hedge laying which involves cutting part way through the old stems and bringing them down in line, stacking the stems on top of each other at a shallow angle and holding everything together with stakes and binders. In the past, such a laid hedge would have kept a field stock-proof before barbed wire or electric fencing were available. Today it is used to create the sort of dense hedge favoured by wildlife.
Parts of the hedge have started to die and create gaps and we are finding that much of the underlying Hawthorn is now dead, and only serving to hold up the dense ivy which is taking over. If we do nothing these will fall down in a high wind and create a lot more gaps. The hedge is also starting to spread out onto the footpath, so taking it back is starting to become necessary, but the central area has hollowed out and taking off the sides creates a big hole. In one area we have had to clear a thicket of brambles which had taken over where the hedge plants had all died, and we have re-planted with hawthorn and a few other species.
Hedge view from the South Hedge view from across the road Hedge view from the North
The remaining 160m or so will be done in 40m chunks over the next 4-6 winters depending on how this first section responds. As well as reducing the impact of doing it all in one go, this means there is a mix of habitats which is better for wildlife – the newly laid sections will hopefully grow up fairly quickly but in the first year or so are not much good for nesting birds and will have few flowers and fruits for other wildlife. We have fingers crossed that there are enough hedge trees in a sufficiently healthy condition that they will grow back vigorously; we would expect a couple of feet new growth per year for the first 2-3 years so it will soon be over 10 foot high and dense again.
The Countryside Restoration Trust is hosting the National Hedge Laying Championships on October 27th, on hedges in the middle of the farm, so we will be using this highly visual bit of hedge laying as a promotion for that event. See http://www.countrysiderestorationtrust.com/news/events/ for more details.
Dr Vince Lea, Head of Monitoring, Lark Rise Farm