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Monarch

Way back in the mists of time I completed a short school project on the Monarch butterfly Danaus plexippus.  Young Jim had read an article in a magazine with a picture of a tree dressed from root to branch in thousands of Monarchs. He learned about the incredible migration of this beautiful butterfly up and down Central and Northern America. He cut out the picture and stuck it in my exercise book, migrating the text into my own enraptured shorthand. Forty years later I drive a golf cart up onto Mount Wolfe Forest Farm in Ontario to feed the chickens and dancing about me between patches of Milkweed, their favorite larval food plant, are those same Monarchs. These butterflies are in trouble across their range, the overuse of herbicides and intensive farming practices implicated in the loss of breeding habitat which threatens to destabilize this epic migration.

Its 10 months since I undertook my own migration across the Atlantic to Mount Wolfe Forest Farm as a guest of the University of Waterloo to advise, with my Hedgelink colleague Nigel Adams and Dutch hedge-layer Jef Gielen, on a 3 year project ‘Hedgelaying in Ontario’s Greenbelt: A Multi-Criteria Assessment of Social-Ecological Innovation and Novel Ecosystems’; You can read about that first visit here. ‘Hedgerows’ in Ontario are generally fencerows or shelter belts found on marginal land where no, or very little, management is practiced and shrubby scrub inevitably gives way to trees. European-style hedgerow management, including the act of rejuvenation called hedge-laying, isn’t practiced widely (or at all?) in Canada.  The University of Waterloo and partners are exploring the promotion of hedgerows- or living fences if you prefer -for the variety of ecological services they can provide-– biodiversity, soil protection, water ( and snow?)management, wood fuel, food; but also the social-ecological benefits arising from the interaction between man and this feature of the natural environment such as sense of place, skill development and health and wellbeing. A sense of urgency informs this work as the inevitable expansion of Toronto into green-belt land requires forward thinking and the incorporation of a novel ecosystems (see Hobbs_et_al-2006-Global_Ecology_and_Biogeography ) approach into regional and local planning.

Both of the hedgerows Nigel and Jef layed back in September, with a help from this blogger, have survived the winter and are thriving. Initial worries that the pleacher (the hedge plant after it has been partially cut at base and layed over) would break or die underneath the snow have not been realized. The hedge at Mount Wolfe is mostly white ash with a hawthorn species and high-bush cranberry (Viburnum americana, a subspecies of my own hedgerow favourite Guelder Rose Viburnum opulus).

The success of these demonstration “hedgerows” and meetings last year are now being built upon with plans to begin planting hedgerows at two locations in the Caledon area north in the Green belt North of Toronto. On my recent trip bacto Ontarion in July I joined the project partners-The University of Waterloo, Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), Albion Hills Community Farm, Mount Wolfe Forest Farm and Caledon Town Council– to firm up plans for an Autumn…sorry, Fall….planting program.. The plants for these first hedgerows in the scheme will be provided by TRCA from their own stocks; the exact composition is yet to be decided but initial conversations between Nigel and TRCAs Ralph Toninger have come up with an outline planting list. We are also aided by PHD student Perin Ruttonsha’s discovery of a 1938 publication Hedges, Screen & Windbreaks Their Uses, Selection and Care by Donald Wyman. The desire is to not be too prescriptive however but to see what works, both ecologically and sociologically: these hedgerows must evolve from the landscape and express its individuality.

For the success of Monarchs and Canadian hedgerows migration is crucial factor. In this year when Canada controversially celebrates celebrates 150 years since its confederation, we remember that it was founded on migration but failed, and continues to fail, to recognize the nations that existed before. When equality and justice for indigenous people is still far short of where it should be, we must be wary of a direct migration of what is on the face of it a clearly European approach to land management-a cultural ‘hedge-emony’ if you like. However we also must be careful not to disregard the functional role hedgerows can provide in the managed landscape as well as the ability they have to reflect the individual sense of place envisioned in the hearts and minds of those resident in the landscape Oreszczyn and Lane (2000).   Indeed, hedges may have existed in many cultures across the world as dead hedges used for corralling livestock the world before Europeans developed their own particular style of management (sensu Nigel Adams!)

Infamously, hedgerows are remembered in the UK as facilitators of landscape enclosure and disenfranchisement. However until post-1940s mechanization took hold Britain’s network  of hedges provided hedgelaying work for people through the autumn and winter, so supporting rural economy and society. Now in a modern landscape where habitat fragmentation is a dominant structuring process, hedgerows can provide connectivity and green infrastructure.

In this project we have a possibility to focus on the connective and rejuvenating aspects of hedges to bring communities together; to heal a landscape and reimagine hedgerows as facilitators for creating new inclusive rural and urban identities and even incomes and livelihoods. I look forward to helping shape this new story.

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It wasn’t the most picturesque winter solstice up on Gibbet Hill, Hindhead, Surrey…..

 

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but in my mind it was all….

 

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Happy Winter Solstice!

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