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A major frustration to putting on any outdoor workshops this time of year is the inclemency of the weather. The site where we held our first spoon-carving workshop in September last year  is now under a thin blanket of snow (which is thickening even as i write!) and the temperature with wind chill is  -4 0C. Not great for the fine-motor skills needed for whittling!

However, the Crandall family, owners of Mount Wolfe Farm, have come to the rescue of the Caledon chapter of the fledgling Ontario Rural Skills Network (ORSN). On the ground level of the bank barn at the farm, Seymour Arnold Crandall (aka SAC or just Arnold) carved out a space for a workshop. “Poppa’s” workshop hasn’t really been used as a workspace since 2000 and is a treasure trove of timeless tools and a miscellany of assorted wonders, bric-a-brac, and curiosities – a testimony to his love of collecting.

With a bit of tidying and sorting there is space for a small group of spoon-carvers, and even a lathe to practice on until I can build the pole-lathes that we will use in the outdoor setting.

Arnold Crandall was passionate about woodworking and the Crandall sisters think their dad would be tickled pink to see life in the workshop again.

Sign up for one of winter/spring workshops on the ORSN website here and come and see what the place looks like!

 

Even in winter, hedgerows are working in the landscape. Not only can they prevent snow drift on to roads (a feature or ‘ecosystem service’ I’m keen to explore more in work in Ontario, see 3 Go to Canada: Hedges, Novel Ecosystems and Damn Fine Donuts,HedgeCanada Revisited: healing the landscape and connecting communities with a new hedgerow story  and Hedge Canada 3: The Planting) , thick hedgerows can also be a barrier and shelter against wind for wildlife and people. They also provide visual interest in the landscape, their varied structural forms catching the eye, an adventure in landscape history for the curious mind and a cheering companion on a winter walk, especially when full of redwings after ivy berries! Ivy in hedgerows and trees is crucial at this time of year for birds and small mammals. Rowan berries and hawthorn hips are mostly long gone, but Ivy berries still endure. Kate Bradbury has written about the benefits of Ivy in the Guardian here

Its this varied structure of hedgerows, clearly seen on a winter walk  that underpins their value to biodiversity. In a  recent paper (Graham et al 2018 The influence of hedgerow structural condition on wildlife habitat provision in farmed landscapes) the authors reviewed the importance of hedgerow structure to biodiversity and found that the the definition of a good qualityhedgerow for biodiversity conservation should be expanded to include all those key structural features which are important across taxa. They highlighted the importance of heterogeneity in hedgerow structural condition  where no fixed set of hedgerow characteristics were found to benefit all taxa., which leads away from the prescription of uniform hedgerow management , because some species (including those of conservation concern) are likely to be adversely affected by a loss of suitable habitat or resource decline. I’ll review the paper in  future blog.

It’s important to maintain hedgerows in good condition however. Annual cutting at the same height every year stresses plants resulting in thick stems and a hard knuckle of regrowth which cracks and splinters under a flail which looks unsightly and may contribute to exposing plants to disease and decay. Annual cutting leads to gappy hedgerows as plants disappear from the hedge, like in this ‘candelabra’ hawthorn along Chapel Road in Westhumble, Dorking. Equally, non intervention leads to tree lines and eventual disappearance of hedgerows.

 

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I suggest a balance needs to be set between the need to preserve the hedgerows and hedge networks itself versus the needs of the species that occupy it/them. There is a point in the (The Hedge Management Cycle, (see also Hedgelink website) where a hedgerow reaches Point 10-  line of trees, and is managed as such for biodiversity and socio-ecological benefits. There are some old beech hedges in Surrey at Haslemere and Hindhead and on Leith Hill which still retain the old pleachers fused together at the bottom of huge mature beeches. These amazing relics are part of the story of our landscape history and while I wouldn’t prescribe ‘no intervention management’ to all hedgerows its important to allow space for such features to emerge, both for wildlife and people. Its only by planning at the landscape scale and over time can you assure the heterogeneity Graham et al recommend.

 

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Relic beech hedgerow at Leith Hill, Surrey

 

For more information about hedgerow management visit the Hedgelink website  http://www.hedgelink.org.uk

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“This is THE hedge-laying competition!” exclaimed John French as he presented the John French Prize for Best Cutting at the Maasheggenvlechten (literally ‘Meuse Hedge Weaving) last weekend, and indeed it is a hedge-laying competition like no other. Why do thousands of Dutch people flock to fields in the Netherlands to watch a bunch of their kindred and some assorted Europeans play in hedgerows? As I pull together our new Surrey Wildlife Trust Citizen Science project Hedgerow Heroes which has, like its freshwater brother RiverSearch, the ultimate aim of connecting people and communities with the natural world, this was very much on my mind.

Maasheggenvlechten is hosted in the Boxmeer Principality of the Netherlands by the banks of the mighty Meuse River which rises in France and flows 925km to join the Rhine at Hollands Diep in the Netherlands. The eastern most and least urbanized tip of the Province of North Brabant which has a flat (although above sea-level) agricultural landscape, hedgerows are part of this landscape although like in the UK many were removed for post-war agricultural intensification. The competition is an annual event which was the brainchild of Lex Roeleveld.of Stichting (“foundation”-like a charitable NGO) Heg en Landschap  to promote the Dutch Hedgelaying style after which the competition is named. Supported by the President of  the Stichting, Louis Dolmans they co-organised the event for the first five years. Now the event is organised by Ruth Bakkens of IVN Meuse Valley.

For the uninitiated, hedge-laying involves the rejuvenation of a hedge by cutting a shrub at its base to leave a living hinge and laying over the stem, now called a pleacher. Regrowth of the shrub then arises from the base and along the still-living stem.   In the UK “Hedge-laying” is represented by over 35 styles including Midland and South of England which vary in the angle of laying and the use of binders and stakes to secure the hedge. With Massheggenvlechten, stems are cut and bent at various heights usually at the horizontal to create a living stock proof fence.

English hedgelayers have attended the competition for many years. I was invited on this trip by that veteran of many hedge-campaigns and Hedgelink colleague Nigel Adams. Once in The Netherlands we joined with fellow Brits Dave Truran, Roger Taylor, John French, and hedge-laying legend Peter Tunks. In advance of the main competition on Sunday our host Lex Roeleveld had organized a training session on the South of England style at a Roggebots Staete in the Flevopolder near the village of Dronten. In perfect Spring weather we laid a line of hazel mixed with a local thorn variety and enjoyed the hospitality of our hosts.

To my surprise I had woken on Friday morning with a swollen and painfull ankle which I could only put down to a lunch-time run on Wednesday. As I hobbled to Stansted and to the car hire at Eindhoven, prospects of tooling-up and getting to grips with a hedge- to my shame the first time this winter- were diminishing. Yet a good compression bandage, elevation, plenty of ice and a few jars of Amstel, I was good to go on Saturday morning.

We arrived before the crowds on Sunday so that Nigel and Co. could survey the hedge which they would use to demonstrate Midland and South of England styles. Spring was most definitely in the air and the early sunshine promised a good day. John French’s tools and George Mueller’s book stand (more on him soon) were early attractions and old friendships were reaffirmed over steaming cups of coffee before we all assembled outside for a picture and instruction on the day. Our hedges were the first that visitors to the site would see as they walked from the car and cycle park past a demonstration of sheep-dog skills. During the day the cycle park became a sparkling inland sea of aluminium forks and frames.

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The first job for us was to cut away much of the lateral wood that the previous hedge-layers had expertly crafted. While in some ways this felt like a violation, the hedge was ready for rejuvenation and the English demonstration styles needed clean vertical stems. I was happier that the man who had previously laid this section of hedge was on hand and was none other than our HedgeCanada buddy Jef Gielen. We were happy to find a length of pleacher which still held the healed –over scar of his original cut some 12 years ago which he kept as a token.

Dave, Peter and Roger got stuck in on the SoE demonstration and I assisted Nigel at a more leisurely pace on the Midland. I am only a keen hedgelaying novice- my expertise lies in hedge ecology and conservation- so this weekend was also a chance for me to learn and practice under the tutelage of a thicket of hedgelaying professionals. It was an enormous pleasure to watch how much thought goes into the placing of each pleacher, the good will with which advice was taken and given, and the easy carry-on humour that emerged as we worked. With a group of us on hand there was also plenty of time to talk to the crowds, building to a steady stream as the day wore on.

John commandeered Nigel for judging duty just after lunch so I downed tools and ambled around to soak up the atmosphere and converse with hedge-layers and visitors. I was stunned by the number of people but Lex and others thought numbers were down on previous years. The hedges weren’t the only attractions: horse-riding, a roving all-female brass ensemble and plenty of distractions for kids involving willow-weaving and a straw-bale assault course. When I met Sjoerd Aertssen in front of his beautifully woven hedge and we chatted over small glasses of Jenever (Dutch Gin), I asked him why this event attracted so many people. “It’s a great thing to do on a nice day” he said, “It would be different numbers if it was raining. But people like to be in touch with nature. These places are also relatively small and people know each other ( very) well. Everyone knows someone who is joining the competition. It’s the only thing that makes these villages really special and nobody wants to miss an event like this.”

One thing that marks Maasheggenvlechten out from say, the National Hedgelaying Championships in England, is that the majority of people here aren’t professional hedge-layers. Most have taken a course but are here to just get involved and connect with the land and each other. Hedges are layed in teams and, as with our demonstration hedgerows, that arguably lends a different feeling over all. There is still much competitiveness and a striving to improve, but for me that inclusiveness and community spirit really marked this event as special.

Watching a skilled hedge-layer at work is a form-poem, a demonstration in connectedness. It’s important that professional competition exists so that the apogee in skill can be demonstrated through the drive of competitors to be the best amongst their peers; anyone who has attended a competition knows the vicarious pleasure of watching the masters at work. For improvers or  those of us just starting out it shows us what can be attained with practice and determination if you have some ability and a good eye. Like the water-colour hobbyist who takes trips to the Tate to see his favourite artist, our novice attempts may never reach such great heights of perfection, but in lifting a brush, in feeling and seeing the properties of paint on canvas, we appreciate the skill in the task that much more. That understanding is vital in creating the essential connection between a person and the external (natural) world. In the world of hedges and hedgelaying, a person who is willing to try their hand, without regard or embarrassment to their level of skill, becomes connected in a positive way. Once connected, the hedge and the landscape it emerges from are forever part of their reality, and they will do everything in their power to preserve it.

DSC07022

 

After tools-down we assembled in the large marquee and fuelled by hotdogs and beer we awaited the prize-giving. In an unexpected move foreign competitors were invited up on stage and thanked for our participation with a gift of a book called “Beautiful Europe” by Jaap Dirkmaat. The irony of this moment was not lost on our English contingent as we shuffled off the stage apologetically (even more so now as the Dutch have rejected a call to populist nationalism in their March elections).

DSC06919

 

Now to Georg Mueller. In 2013 he released the results of his years of research in the two volume “European Field Boundaries” which, not having access to the books themselves I gave a cursory review of here. Georg joined us at our hotel on the Saturday night and while language was a barrier (his English is better than my German!) with the help of Nigel I spoke in admiration of his work and conveyed my own interest in the social ecology of hedgerows, and we agreed to correspond. To my utter surprise and delight, Georg gifted me the 2 volume set of his work at the competition the next day, so a more thorough review will be forthcoming in time. Thank you Georg!

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A hugely enjoyable event and weekend and my thanks go to Dave, Peter, Roger and John for making me feel part of the team; to Lex for being the most attentive and generous of hosts (we will forgive the lack of tools on Saturday, partly because it prompted John to bring along his fabulous wooden hammer and cry “Whose looking after my knocker” to much attendant mirth. Special thanks to Nigel for inviting me along – it’s a wonder we did get there though at all with bad ankles, misplaced driving licences and a non-functioning sat nav.

See you all in 2018!

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Lex Roeleveld weaving a hedge in the Maasheggen style

 

“This is THE hedge-laying competition!” exclaimed John French as he presented the John French Prize for Best Cutting at the Maasheggenvlechten (literally ‘Meuse Hedge Weaving) last weekend, and indeed it is a hedge-laying competition like no other. Why do thousands of Dutch people flock to fields in the Netherlands to watch a bunch of their kindred and some assorted Europeans play in hedgerows? As I pull together our new Surrey Wildlife Trust Citizen Science project Hedgerow Heroes which has, like its freshwater brother RiverSearch, the ultimate aim of connecting people and communities with the natural world, this was very much on my mind.

Maasheggenvlechten is hosted in the Boxmeer Principality of the Netherlands by the banks of the mighty Meuse River which rises in France and flows 925km to join the Rhine at Hollands Diep in the Netherlands. The eastern most and least urbanized tip of the Province of North Brabant which has a flat (although above sea-level) agricultural landscape, hedgerows are part of this landscape although like in the UK many were removed for post-war agricultural intensification. The competition is an annual event which was the brainchild of Lex Roeleveld.of Stichting (“foundation”-like a charitable NGO) Heg en Landschap  to promote the Dutch Hedgelaying style after which the competition is named. Supported by the President of  the Stichting, Louis Dolmans they co-organised the event for the first five years. Now the event is organised by Ruth Bakkens of IVN Meuse Valley.

For the uninitiated, hedge-laying involves the rejuvenation of a hedge by cutting a shrub at its base to leave a living hinge and laying over the stem, now called a pleacher. Regrowth of the shrub then arises from the base and along the still-living stem.   In the UK “Hedge-laying” is represented by over 35 styles including Midland and South of England which vary in the angle of laying and the use of binders and stakes to secure the hedge. With Massheggenvlechten, stems are cut and bent at various heights usually at the horizontal to create a living stock proof fence.

English hedgelayers have attended the competition for many years. I was invited on this trip by that veteran of many hedge-campaigns and Hedgelink colleague Nigel Adams. Once in The Netherlands we joined with fellow Brits Dave Truran, Roger Taylor, John French, and hedge-laying legend Peter Tunks. In advance of the main competition on Sunday our host Lex Roeleveld had organized a training session on the South of England style at a Roggebots Staete in the Flevopolder near the village of Dronten. In perfect Spring weather we laid a line of hazel mixed with a local thorn variety and enjoyed the hospitality of our hosts.

To my surprise I had woken on Friday morning with a swollen and painfull ankle which I could only put down to a lunch-time run on Wednesday. As I hobbled to Stansted and to the car hire at Eindhoven, prospects of tooling-up and getting to grips with a hedge- to my shame the first time this winter- were diminishing. Yet a good compression bandage, elevation, plenty of ice and a few jars of Amstel, I was good to go on Saturday morning.

We arrived before the crowds on Sunday so that Nigel and Co. could survey the hedge which they would use to demonstrate Midland and South of England styles. Spring was most definitely in the air and the early sunshine promised a good day. John French’s tools and George Mueller’s book stand (more on him soon) were early attractions and old friendships were reaffirmed over steaming cups of coffee before we all assembled outside for a picture and instruction on the day. Our hedges were the first that visitors to the site would see as they walked from the car and cycle park past a demonstration of sheep-dog skills. During the day the cycle park became a sparkling inland sea of aluminium forks and frames.

DSC06912

John French and his bounty of billhooks

 

The first job for us was to cut away much of the lateral wood that the previous hedge-layers had expertly crafted. While in some ways this felt like a violation, the hedge was ready for rejuvenation and the English demonstration styles needed clean vertical stems. I was happier that the man who had previously laid this section of hedge was on hand and was none other than our HedgeCanada buddy Jef Gielen. We were happy to find a length of pleacher which still held the healed –over scar of his original cut some 12 years ago which he kept as a token.

Dave, Peter and Roger got stuck in on the SoE demonstration and I assisted Nigel at a more leisurely pace on the Midland. I am only a keen hedgelaying novice- my expertise lies in hedge ecology and conservation- so this weekend was also a chance for me to learn and practice under the tutelage of a thicket of hedgelaying professionals. It was an enormous pleasure to watch how much thought goes into the placing of each pleacher, the good will with which advice was taken and given, and the easy carry-on humour that emerged as we worked. With a group of us on hand there was also plenty of time to talk to the crowds, building to a steady stream as the day wore on.

John commandeered Nigel for judging duty just after lunch so I downed tools and ambled around to soak up the atmosphere and converse with hedge-layers and visitors. I was stunned by the number of people but Lex and others thought numbers were down on previous years. The hedges weren’t the only attractions: horse-riding, a roving all-female brass ensemble and plenty of distractions for kids involving willow-weaving and a straw-bale assault course. When I met Sjoerd Aertssen in front of his beautifully woven hedge and we chatted over small glasses of Jenever (Dutch Gin), I asked him why this event attracted so many people. “It’s a great thing to do on a nice day” he said, “It would be different numbers if it was raining. But people like to be in touch with nature. These places are also relatively small and people know each other ( very) well. Everyone knows someone who is joining the competition. It’s the only thing that makes these villages really special and nobody wants to miss an event like this.”

 

One thing that marks Maasheggenvlechten out from say, the National Hedgelaying Championships in England, is that the majority of people here aren’t professional hedge-layers. Most have taken a course but are here to just get involved and connect with the land and each other. Hedges are layed in teams and, as with our demonstration hedgerows, that arguably lends a different feeling over all. There is still much competitiveness and a striving to improve, but for me that inclusiveness and community spirit really marked this event as special.

Watching a skilled hedge-layer at work is a form-poem, a demonstration in connectedness. It’s important that professional competition exists so that the apogee in skill can be demonstrated through the drive of competitors to be the best amongst their peers; anyone who has attended a competition knows the vicarious pleasure of watching the masters at work. For improvers or  those of us just starting out it shows us what can be attained with practice and determination if you have some ability and a good eye. Like the water-colour hobbyist who takes trips to the Tate to see his favourite artist, our novice attempts may never reach such great heights of perfection, but in lifting a brush, in feeling and seeing the properties of paint on canvas, we appreciate the skill in the task that much more. That understanding is vital in creating the essential connection between a person and the external (natural) world. In the world of hedges and hedgelaying, a person who is willing to try their hand, without regard or embarrassment to their level of skill, becomes connected in a positive way. Once connected, the hedge and the landscape it emerges from are forever part of their reality, and they will do everything in their power to preserve it.

DSC07022

Dave Truran, Roger Taylor, Peter Tunks, Nigel Adams, Jim Jones

 

After tools-down we assembled in the large marquee and fuelled by hotdogs and beer we awaited the prize-giving. In an unexpected move foreign competitors were invited up on stage and thanked for our participation with a gift of a book called “Beautiful Europe” by Jaap Dirkmaat. The irony of this moment was not lost on our English contingent as we shuffled off the stage apologetically (even more so now as the Dutch have rejected a call to populist nationalism in their March elections).

DSC06919

The Golden Billhook is awarded to the winner

 

Now to Georg Mueller. In 2013 he released the results of his years of research in the two volume “European Field Boundaries” which, not having access to the books themselves I gave a cursory review of here. Georg joined us at our hotel on the Saturday night and while language was a barrier (his English is better than my German!) with the help of Nigel I spoke in admiration of his work and conveyed my own interest in the social ecology of hedgerows, and we agreed to correspond. To my utter surprise and delight, Georg gifted me the 2 volume set of his work at the competition the next day, so a more thorough review will be forthcoming in time. Thank you Georg!

DSC07027

A hugely enjoyable event and weekend and my thanks go to Dave, Peter, Roger and John for making me feel part of the team; to Lex for being the most attentive and generous of hosts (we will forgive the lack of tools on Saturday, partly because it prompted John to bring along his fabulous wooden hammer and cry “Whose looking after my knocker” to much attendant mirth. Special thanks to Nigel for inviting me along – it’s a wonder we did get there though at all with bad ankles, misplaced driving licences and a non-functioning sat nav.

See you all in 2018!

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L-R: Glen, Keith, Emma, Libby,Jenny, Louise, Tom, John, David

Turning a frown into a smile amongst ordinary people working to improve their environment

Today started badly there is no doubt about that. The US became even more of a theme park than usual and an Orange Man who hates almost everyone but himself had become President.

Yet haven’t most of us known for some time that 21st Century Western Civilization is broken. It’s a machine designed to make us consume, because consumption is the dynamo that drives the growth economy which allows our societies to build more houses and shops and roads and hospitals and schools so we can live long and healthy lives….er… consuming.

For me Brexit and Trump are warnings of collapse, but instead of marshalling the best in us to build a better world, they are symptoms of the fear that people have for their future when power is taken away from them, away from the idea that Governments are elected to represent them but instead give power to globalised entities in the name of wealth generation and growth.

Wealth generation and growth is a process, not an end point. The end point should be global well-being.

My antidote to all this was a day on the Rye Brook , a small tributary of the River Mole which itself is a tributary of the River Thames, rising in West Sussex near Horsham and flowing 80km north-west through Surrey to join the Thames at East Molesey near Hampton Court. I was here with 9 volunteers who had given up their day to help improve the morphology and habitat of the Rye as it confluences with the Mole in River Lane Meadows, Leatherhead. The Rye is classed as a Heavily Modified Water Body  in the parlance of the EU Water Framework Directive due to its modification for flood relief, so it will never achieve Good Ecological Status. However we can mitigate the effects of the structures and impoundments along its course by improving habitat. This is the aim of the project we are now running called Rye To Good, with the target being Good Ecological Potential.

I have been working on the Rye since 2010 when I produced a Hedgerow Management Plan for Ashtead Rye Meadows. Today, I manage projects like Rye to Good as part of Surrey Wildlife Trusts’ Living Landscape vision, and particularily our Catchment-based Approach (CaBA) work hosting the River Mole Catchment Partnership (RMCP) and Wey landsacpe Partnership (WLP). The Rye Brook is lucky enough to have an army of interested residents and forward-thinking landowners who readily get involved to improve the condition of their local watercourse.

Today everyone looked a bit fazed. We had hoped to break a couple of weirs at the mouth of the Rye to improve the passage of fish into the brook, but after a full night of rain the brook was too high to work with the equipment to cut through concrete weirs. However we set to work on the other goals- installing two deflectors to encourage a straightened section of channel to meander; building a berm to create a low flow channel which would continue to move silt even in lower flows; and day-lighting the brook from years of neglect allowing blackthorn to block out any light into the channel.

With myself and colleagues Glen and Emma today were John, Keith, Libby, Tom, Louise, David and Jenny.Volunteers were from the Surrey Wildlife Trust RiverSearch Citizen Science Project and Surrey County Council’s Lower Mole Countryside Project.

Today has reminded me that real political power lies in the connections we have with each other. Keeping an open mind and heart and solving communal problems as citizens- not as consumption-orientated individuals has to be the way to a brighter future.

Stay positive.

 

 

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