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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

 

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“I bequeath myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.”
– Walt Whitman

On an unseasonably warm and sunny Thanksgiving Weekend (6th October 2017) visitors to the Open Day at Mount Wolfe Farm in Caledon, Ontario were able to take part in a first for the farm, for the town of Caledon, and who knows maybe for Ontario and Canada as well: the planting of a hedgerow with hedgelaying in mind. Volunteers walked down from the Shed past the greenhouse and through a gateway of two black walnut stumps. Here at the bottom of a gentle slope the farm manager Sarah had ploughed a 100m strip ready for planting. Earlier that day I set out the plants that have been kindly donated by Toronto Area Conservation Authority (TRCA) to form two staggered rows of plants. Rows are 40cm apart and each plant will be 30cm apart, a density of five plants a metre. We only had 2 plants every metre but the rest will be delivered in the spring when the hedge will be finished.

The volunteers took to their task energetically and with enthusiasm. I’m used to planting 30-40cm whips which can be slipped in with a T-cut using a spade; these potted plants required a bit more digging to contain the roots before being heeled in. Although the plant species we are using for the Mount Wolfe hedge are different species from those we would plant in the UK, they are broadly similar. We have hazel, albeit the American hazelnut Corylus Americana; Grey Dogwood Cornus racemose; and a Prunus-Chokeberry Prunus virginiana- which although doesn’t look as fierce as Blackthorn Prunus spinosa sounds like it might perform a similar function in the hedge to provide dense, stock-proof growth. We are also planting a couple of Viburnums: NannyBerry Viburnum lentago and Arrowwood V. dentatum, which are similar to the Guelder Rose V.opulus and Wayfaring Tree V. lantana we might plant in a hedge in the UK. This list is topped off by Serviceberry Amelanchier canadensis, Black Chokeberry Aronia melanocarpa and Fragrant Sumac Rhus aromatic. A list of potentially suitable hedge species was developed last year when my colleague Nigel Adams visited the TRCA plant nursery with Ralph Toniger (see link below).

These plants have been chosen for their mast-producing qualities, so the hedge fits in with Mount Wolfe Farm’s food producing ethos. The location of the hedge has also been chosen to zone part of the farm which its owners the Crandall Sisters and next generation farm manager Sarah are hoping to designate as an open space, a commons, for the use and benefit of local residents, a novel land-use approach in a landscape of privately-owned properties.

In advance of the hedge planting I delivered a talk on hedgerows in the same Shed that almost one year to the day Nigel Adams, Jef Gielen and I found ourselves delivering talks followed by a hedge laying demonstration as part of the University of Waterloo’s Partnership project Hedgelaying in Ontario’s Greenebelt. You can read about that trip in 2016 in my earlier blog HERE and an update on the growth of the hedge in my visit in Spring 2017 HERE. It feels fantastic to be part of the first hedge planting event envisaged by that partnership last year. My talk was sandwiched between Professor Stephen Quilley who gave an overview of the aims of the HOG project in developing social resilience and Debbe Crandall of Mount Wolfe who gave a fascinating insight into the development of the Crandall family farm and the importance of the hedgerow project to regional and community planning.

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Two more hedge planting events on different sites with very different aims and visions are planned which, it is hoped, will form case studies to showcase the varied contexts hedgerows can be used in and the different ‘services’ hedges can provide: from the food and zoning focus of the Mount Wolf hedges, to the provision of habitat and landscape connectivity and even to services such as natural flood management, prevention of soil erosion and stock management.

The novelty bought by these hedges is that they are being planted with long-term management in mind. Species are being selected for their shrub-like qualities and their ability to respond with new vigorous growth when coppiced. Hedges may be trimmed on a 2-3 year rotation but all will need to be rejuvenated- cut at the base to encourage new growth- to keep a thick canopy from the ground up.

Hedgelaying has developed throughout Europe as a way of rejuvenating hedgerows but this management technique has been developed locally and hedges now provide a more aesthetic and social component than perhaps the first hedgelayers intended. There are now over 30 hedge-laying styles in Britain alone.

What will an Ontarion Hedgelaying style look like I wonder? We are at the beginning of finding out.

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Check out my YouTube video.

Many thanks to Sarah D, Debbe, Sheilagh, Marce and Sarah C for putting me up- and putting up with me-at Mount Wolfe. Thanks also to Prof Quilley and PHD candidate Perin Ruttonsha at The University of Waterloo for continuing to involve me in this fascinating project. This blog is dedicated to Nigel and Jef who couldn’t be with me this time.

Learn more about hedgerows and how they are managed at Hedgelink and the National Hedgelaying Society

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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).

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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).

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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!

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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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(Probably) The first ever hedge layed in Canada! L-R: Jim Jones, Jef Gielen, Nigel Adams, Steve Quilley

Where I find myself in Ontario Canada introducing the technique of hedge-laying and discovering social-ecological complexity, Novel Ecosystems theory and Community Supported Agriculture along the way

 

 

I’m writing this blog as US Citizens go to the polls and a baked potato crisps in the oven, getting ready for a date with home-made chilli. By the time you read this, we will have a new ‘leader of the free world’. I doubt much will change really, except the aforesaid citizens will have as much to divide them as we Brits now have thanks to Brexit

So if you can’t bare another Trump vs Clinton, Brexit vs Remain story, let’s talk about Connections, my favourite topic. There is after all far more that unifies us than divides us.

I was invited as a guest of the Institute of Social Innovation and Resilience at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, to take part in exploring social-ecological complexity, and in particular the role hedgerows and hedge-laying might play in designing “novel” or “designer” ecosystems ahead of the inevitable growth of the Toronto Golden Horseshoe.

Hedgelaying in Ontarios Greenbelt-Program Fall 2016

I’ll explore the detail of the project in a later blog, but for now it’s worth explaining how this invitation came about due to its almost serendipitous levels of connectivity. Before I joined the Surrey Wildlife Trust I ran a project for the People’s Trust for Endangered Species called Hedgerows for Dormice (HfD) (HfD Newsletter 2011) from 2009-12, for which I ran a series of workshops across England and Wales for Landowners about Hedgerow Management. Through this project I had joined Hedgelink which at the time was the UK BAP for Hedgerows Steering Group, and now goes from strength to strength as a technical advisory group on hedgerows which are a Habitat of Principal Importance for Nature Conservation in England.

Through Hedgelink I met Nigel Adams, a countryside management professional specialising in hedge-laying, and vice-chair of the National Hedgelaying Society. I enlisted Nigel to help me with the HfD Hedgerow Management Workshop, providing a much-needed practical element of hedge management through his 10-point plan to compliment the positive wildlife message from my PTES project. Nigel also attended my NERC Workshop on Hedgerow Connectivity at Imperial College in 2014 and off the back of this he enlisted me in the 3-man mission (with Jef Gielen, a hedge-layer from the Netherlands) to Ontario to demonstrate the art of Hedge-laying. Nigel and the NHS had hosted the Waterloo team, headed up by Dr Steve Quilley and PhD Candidate Perin Ruttonsha, when they attended the National Hedgelaying Championships in 2015, and who subsequently invited him and Jef to take part in the all program at Waterloo in 2016.

Nigel, Jef and I were intrigued by the invitation because we didn’t equate Canada with hedgerows, let alone hedgelaying. The team at Waterloo were tasked with finding a hedge for Nigel and Jef to demonstrate their art and it soon became clear that finding a suitable “hedge” was not easy. After arriving in Ontario on a Monday evening in September we went straight to work on Tuesday demonstrating hedge-laying on a small patch of shrubs at the Quilley’s property in Elora. I say “we” I am of course more an eager conservation hedge-layer rather than professional like my colleagues but the “hedge”, layed midland style, was soon shaping up. Until we ran out of shrubs to lay!

Following this first demonstration we journeyed with our hosts from our base in Waterloo to Caledon and scoured Mount Wolfe Forest Farm for a suitable hedge to lay. Beautiful as the farm is, it did lack anything resembling a hedgerow although a line of trees along the edge of a woodland strip gave us the opportunity to demonstrate again. Assembled at Mount Wolfe to watch the demonstration were some of the posse that had been to the 2015 Hedge-laying Championships in the UK including Debbe Day Crandall (Save The Oak Ridges Moraine Coalition), Gord Macpherson (Toronto Region Conservation Authority), Karen Hutchinson (Caledon Countryside Alliance/ Albion Hills Community Farm) and Nicola Ross (Writer and Environmentalist), together with farm manager Sarah Dolamore, all keen to see how hedges and hedge-laying might be a useful tool in the conservation of the Oak Ridges Moraine Area.

These hedge-laying demonstrations naturally gave rise to many questions. Why aren’t hedges, never mind hedge-laying, more prevalent in Ontario? What are the best species of shrub to use from the palette of Ontario species? In our hedgerows were maples, ash, basswood, hawthorn and buckthorn which all seemed to work but would this yield the best results? How might snowfall impact the newly cut pleacher? There may be good practical reasons why hedges haven’t been planted extensively in Ontario, however further work should look to map current hedgerow extent. Nigel and Jef had brought their own bilhooks over with them thinking no such equipment would be easily available. Only after they had both left (I stayed on for two extra weeks) was a Canadian-made billhook unearthed in the Barn at Mount Wolf Forest Farm

Of course there may also be social aspects to explain the lack of hedges. Settlers from Europe were in some cases disenfranchised by the theft of common land and its redistribution to wealthy landowners exemplified by the exclosure acts. During the enclosure acts of 1750-1850 over 200,000miles of hedgerow was planted enclosing over 2 million acres of land. Perhaps hedgerows represented a way of life settlers would rather forget. I will come back to this because I think it raises some challenging questions about how much social and cultural aspects should be considered when ecosystem functioning is threatened.

The general consensus was that some trial hedges should be planted as soon as possible to answer some of these practical questions before hedgerows might be rolled out as a component of green infrastructure.

Subsequent blogs will explore:

  • Novel ecosystems concepts
  • Complexity and resilience
  • Ontario-Surrey Comparisons
  • Community Supported Agriculture & Forestry
  • Locally-derived ecological coherence & resilience

Oh, and here are the donuts………

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