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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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(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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