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Sarah is very excited about our new hedgerow

Its Autumn! Its Fall! Its Hedge-Time!

I love this time of year as the leaves lose their chlorophyll pigment and the anthocyanins and carotenoids reveal a harvest of ochre, carnelian, caramel, crimson, and ruby.

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Perhaps its my conservation background that makes me feel its a time to tinker, or maybe its just a revealed human trait that we are called to interact with the world around us. I’m led towards autumn walks and to woodland work and of course to hedges..

The Hedgelaying in Ontario’s Landscape project is organising the planting of  three new hedgerows  and finishing off an existing site this autumn and the first one is now complete. On Wednesday and Thursday this week a team from the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) came to plant up the second hedge at Mount Wolfe Farm, our site for demonstrating how a managed hedge can transform a landscape and provide many benefits for landowners, farmers and the community.

Farm Manager Sarah and I started preping for the arrival of the TRCA on Monday by bush-hogging, ploughing and tilling a strip up along the ‘Bowl’. We were concerned at first that the job would be hard but the plough made short work and soon we were admiring the rich crumbly soil our new plants were going to call home.

 

There had been a slight snowfall when the TRCA arrived on Wednesday morning and the 7-strong team were all bundled up against the cold. They quickly began to unload the plants consisting of American Hazelnut Corlus americana (300), Serviceberry Amelanchier arborea (300), Chokecherry Prunus virginiana (300),  Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa (150) and Fragrant Sumac Rhus aromatica (150). Their previous job had been planting fill on a development site, so seeing the prepared ground and almost stoneless soil really made their day! I wanted them to get a real sense of the excitement of the novelty of this hedge-planting they were undertaken so at the first break for coffee I gave them a quick talk about hedgerows, the Hedgelaying in Ontario’s Landscape project and the workshops available under the Ontario Rural Skills Network we have started on the Farm. Sarah was on hand to mention the CSA programme at Mount Wolfe too.

“This is your hedge” I told them. ” As you plant this hedge you will have thoughts,ideas and memories that arise that will be woven into its structure. I had in my head the upcoming  Fall Farm Fest on Saturday 27th where I launched a more formal way to bind these stories into the hedge which I’m calling  The Hedgerow Rite (more on this soon). In the mean time I left out a pad for the team to share any thoughts, ideas and “offerings” they had during the planting. I also left out a small basket filled with pieces of paper, which i encouraged them to use to share private thoughts and wishes by burying them beneath the hedge as they planted.

“Its snowed as we planted, wondering if it will be a cold winter this year”- Meggie

“I usually enjoy planting hedges but this preparation is excellent. Knowing the trees and shrubs are going to love soil. I hope i can see this in 10 years!” – Ryan

“Cool project. thanks for having us”- Will

“I was excited to find out the crew were planing here because I have visited the farm before. I will for sure have to come back in a few years and see how the hedge is progressing. thank you!”- Colleen

“Love this place! Beautiful farm! Thank you so much for your warm welcome!”- Gavin

“Thank you for the tea and coffee, so nice!” -Meggie (?)

“If there is a hedge competition there should a planting competition and if there isn’t we should invent it”- Ryan (?)

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The hedge is planted along what was originally planned as a fence line. The 10cm diameter pine posts had long since rotted however and my visiting godkids Fraser and Sophie had great fun knocking them down to make way for the hedge. Now the hedge would ascend the hill creating a green-way between it and the adjacent  mixed woodland of Cold Creek, it would then curve around the base of the hill and along the upper path across the top of the bowl. The purpose of the hedge here serves at least four purposes:

(i) Aesthetic- providing  a new and exciting experience for  the family, CSA members and visitors as they walk up the green-way, with the grassy bowl and hill revealed through 5m gaps. From the bowl, the hedge will provide a ‘skirt’ to the tall white and red pines behind creating a dense and thick structure with flowers, berries and rich foliage during autumn.

(ii) Cultural- this hedge together with another planted in 2017 and being finished off at the Fall Farm Fest help demonstrate the Crandall Family’s commitment to the shared experience of land-based stewardship and community participation. New stories are being made in the landscape, bound together with the old.

(iii) Biodiversity– this dense well-manged hedgerow will provide many habitats for small birds and mammals and shelter from the sun for shade tolerant butterflies in the green lane.

(iv) Living Fence-the farm hopes in the future to bring in seasonal conservation grazing for the management of the grasslands in the bowl  The hedge will eventually be a stock-proof barrier to livestock.

Thank you Christina, Ryan, Will, Meggie, Colleen, Gavin, and all involved in planting. Thanks to Elizabeth Celanowicz ,TRCA Planting & Stewardship Project Manager, for funding and organising the plants for us. Do come back and visit your hedge.

Coming soon..The Hedgerow Rite in full…

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Just back from sending off the Mount Wolfe Farm Environmental Farm Plan for review, which I have been helping Farm Manager Sarah and her aunt Debbe Crandall complete as part of my work for the University of Waterloo Hedgelaying in Ontario’s Landscape Project 2018.

The EFP is a voluntary programme driven by the farming community with technical support provided by the Ontario Ministry of  Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). It is run by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA).

EFPs are assessments voluntarily prepared by farm families to increase their environmental awareness in up to 23 different areas on their farm. After attending two workshops with Sarah and Debbe we risk-assessed the 23 different areas which included Water Wells, Pesticide Handling & Storage, Fertilizer Handling & Storage, Treatment of Household Wastewater, Livestock Mortality , Field Crop Management and Woodlands and Wildlife.

The overall purpose is to assess the impacts of farm operations- particularity nutrient enrichment from manure, pesticides and tilling practices on ground and surface water resources. There are however useful sections on sustainability of water resources where we looked at how much water the farm uses; on energy use, and on wildlife. Scoring for each question 1-4, any answers with 1 or 2 require an action plan to be completed.

Completing the EFP opens the door to cost-share funding under the Canada-Ontario Farm Stewardship Program

From my UK experience this is more a Catchment Sensitive Farming Plan than a Farm Environment Plan. I would like to have seen more emphasis on wildlife, particularly in identifying endangered species  or species of conservation concern and creating actions to benefit them.

However the EFP was an undeniably useful process for Mount Wolfe and would be for any farm interested inreducing their environmenatl impact. I especially found the mapping component useful, where i got to flex my QGIS muscles (slightly more than the hand drawn plan required by the EFP but useful for long-term farm planning especially for woodland management). It did take us, a small Community Supported Agriculture Farm, a number of days to get all the information together and think through answers, even if many of the 23 worksheets were not applicable to our operation. I think a larger farm would need more support than two workshop days in completing the form.

I’ve been in Canada a month now spending much of my time exploring new pathways around hedgerows and traditional skills so thought it was about time I got back to some field ecology. Sarah has a problem in the upper field at Mount Wolfe Farm where the young tomato plants are being eaten, so I am investigating what maybe causing the problem. On our first nights trapping using 10 sherman traps baited with peanut butter, bird seed, sardines and apple we caught this young male deer mouse Peromyscus maniculatus weighing 14g. He was safely translocated to similar habitat away from the tomatoes!

In wildness is the preservation of the world- Henry David Thoreau, in  ‘Walking’ (1862)

Its Sunday June 3rd and back in the UK my colleagues at Surrey Wildlife Trust have already been busy filling social media with their #30dayswild posts to encourage their friends, family and the public to take time each day through June to connect with the wild. Lou took a walk in a local wildlife with her dog Banjo and photographed all the flowers. James has revamped his garden with new plants to attract wild pollinators. Lucy  and Nicole have been exploring the mountains of Scotland. My computer screen is brimming with colour and energy and life.

I have been meaning to update my blog but I have been too busy living #MyWIldLife to write about it, but now happily both my love of writing and my need to spread the word about some of the exciting things i’m doing coincide, just in time for this annual celebration of wild living.

My Canadian adventure which started in 2016 has now reached a new phase  and I am at the start of a 10 month sabbatical from SWT. I am working as Visiting Scientist at the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Innovation and Resilience which is part of the University of Waterloo. I have joined the team on the Hedgelaying in Ontario’s Landscape initiative  who have been using a partnership approach to explore complex issues of landscape planning and management within southern Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH). I’ll be working with partners to support their hedge planting and hedgelaying visions at both site and landscape level, together with exploring the development- or rather curation-of a rural skills network in Southern Ontario. This practical work will explore new pathways of sustainable transformation towards landscape and community resilience. More on this in later blogs!

I am living with my partner Sarah at the wonderful Mount Wolf Farm, owned and run by the Crandall family where my friends Nigel and Jef demonstrated hedgelaying back in 2016 and last year we planted the first plants in the First Canadian Hedgerow (probably not but every hedge needs a story!).  Mount Wolfe is at the centre of a transitioning landscape, a complex theatre in which i find myself an actor exploring solutions towards a sustainable future.

Thoreau’s thoughts about wilderness are iconic. Today, in the age of the Anthropocene as we struggle to maintain ecosystems and reverse biodiversity loss from a myriad of pressures perhaps we might restate this famous quote- in our world  is the preservation of the wild.

Here are a few highlights for my days 1-3 of #30dayswild

 

 

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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