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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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“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.

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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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On a perfectly sunny winters day earlier this week, I started my first hedge-laying task of the season. Michael (Fi’s Dad) and I began with work on the hedge that borders his property. Michael had already done a stirling job with son-in-law Andy taking the bulk of the heavy stuff from a line of overgrown hazel stools with a chainsaw but they weren’t sure how to proceed to create a hedge-like structure. In my assessment of the hedge, there were enough sturdy uprights to create a layed hedge between coppice stools. The aim was to leave some uprights to mature thus providing a source of hazlenuts while the stools were regrowing, and nesting and perching areas for birds, but have enough light coming through to the old stools to encourage regrowth. Laying old coppice stools isn’t ever going to win any hedgelaying competitions, and I think there comes a time in the life of any linear feature of pure hazel where cutting back the stools to the base, or even low enough to allow live material to be layed in the gaps, would be to much of a shock to the tree. The best thing then is to manage the line as a linear coppice feature, pollard hazels at chest height and dead hedge in between- enough bramble and climbers should grow over these to create a useful and attractive, while shade-tolerant species of shrub will colonise too. You could even plant up with holly which would grow underneath a canopy (it’s the only thing that does grow in our over-shadeded woods!)

Our hedge wasn’t at that stage yet although the first four stools were quite substantial and cut off to about chest height. Because the stumps were still growing from the base we cut the stools lower which allowed uprights to be layed across into pleachers for a wide hedge. In what style you may ask? Jim style, a combination of midland and south of england. Like I said its not going to win any competitions but it will create new habitat and hazel regrowth.

When I first start any practical work I’m tripping over myself and stopping often to think, but its not long before I’ve found the “groove” and make judgements about what to lay and what to clear almost instantly. Its like the hedge is telling me what it needs and I can see the shape it should be. I step back regularly to take a look at how the hedge is proceeding. Michael has his chainsaw cranked up and is taking out the bigger limbs leaving me to lay and stake pleachers and generally form up the hedge. He has loaned me an old billhook he found, a lovely thing but it needs sharpening. I have the brush-hooks I bought for the project last year but their point is too big and they are generally too light. I would buy some proper billhooks but there seems little point with only two months of the Hedgerows for Dormice project left to go. Shep watches us work from just beyond the cattle fence, Kong sat between his paws. Every now and then he sends up a whine and then a few barks, mouthing his toy in a desperate attempt to get our attention- “play with me”. I forget that he is used to Fi’s volunteer events where there is always someone to play with him, but today she is on a tree safety course and couldn’t take him along.

Unlike last year when I started before Christmas, this year demands on my time have seen me more in the PTES Battersea office than out and about. Our Hedgerow Capital Costs Scheme -free plants for farmers and landowners- has had a greater uptake this season and thus more admin for me. With the project deadline looming, it gets more hedgerows in the ground if we give people plants to pay for hedges than if I organise volunteers to undertake the work. Its more rewarding doing the latter, but unfortunately not the best use of time. Its wonderful to be outside, I should be here all the time. I spent some time working as a gardener with my brother-in law, out in all weathers, and I can’t recall being happier. A funny thing though, due to a brace of reasons to do with my head (well, that’s where it hurt most!) I was scaling back my life to concentrate on the basics- I had no ambition but just do my job and come home and that was enough. I loved being able to see the instant product of my labours. We had a job to do, we went and did it and left satisfied we had done a good job- and whats more I felt it in my body, getting fitter than I’ve ever been. Well, I got myself on track and reignited my ambition to work in conservation. I volunteered for PTES as a data entry volunteer and have been through a number of contracts, Dormouse Database Officer, Development Officer and then in this incarnation Hedgerows for Dormice Officer. Somewhere along the line, I’ve lost contact with the earth, have a 3 hour round-trip commute to London, I spend most of my day replying to emails. I have become a creature of the twilight world and flickering monitoring screens, pasty and hunched. Well, no I haven’t, there are of course really great parts to my job, and the best part of them all is the (ever decreasing) time spent out-doors planting, hedge-laying and coppicing. Right now though, with redundancies and cuts in conservation organisations happening all around me, I am grateful to be working in a field (or should that be hedgerow) of my choice, if only for a little while longer.

Its difficult typing this today, on my trip into London: my fine motor skills in my fingers are compromised by aching muscles from first-use of billhook- but it’s a satisfying ache. We steadied away most of the day and broke the back of the hardest part of the hedge where the stools were older. Accompanying us was a sweetly-singing Robin and curious blue-tits. They felt like curious on-lookers at a new housing development, dreaming about the possibilities for the years ahead. It struck me our robin friend did bear a passing reemblance to Kevin Macleod from Grand Designs.

As I worked, I kept leafing through the coppice bases to check for sleepy dormice, these stools being the perfect habitat for them, and in the woodland just over the brow of the hill one of our boxes housed a nest of juvenile’s in August last year. There were only a few hazel nuts and none nibbled to suggest the critters were present. One day perhaps, when this hedge is connected to the woodland, we might get dormice- and plenty of other species too- using it. I will be erecting dormice boxes once it’s layed to monitor progress. A beautiful oak nearby riddled with Ganoderma bracket funghi had tunnels and apertures which I explore during a tea-break, pulling out hazelnuts with characteristically-chewed holes confirming wood mice were in residence-probably yellow necks if our unwanted summer visitors to the house were a good indication. As the sun slipped down the sky, the tops of oaks, birches and ash in the woods across the valley turned golden and the clouds became a dusty pink hue. A full moon rose early in the afternoon and waxed in intensity until it sat fully ripe in the sky, a visual poem to cold majesty. As we sorted and cleared the off-cuts into useful firewood, rods, stakes and binders-my friend Lauren weaves baskets and probably will use some of the smaller pieces- and in separate piles – a roe deer stag leaped across the field before us, his glossy bronzed fur shimmering and his white tail flashing in the last rays of the sun. I headed home with Shep skipping before me, both of us thinking of our tea, the job started well. It had been a very fine day indeed, and I hope to get out again this weekend to continue the job.

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