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As part of my work on the Hedgelaying In Ontario’s Landscape project I have set up the Ontario Rural Skills Network (ORSN) to teach a range of traditional skills such as green wood-working (slojd), basket weaving, dry stone walking and of course hedgelaying. The idea is to use these skills to connect people to the landscape and to each other. I’ll be posting here soon about the thinking behind this approach but in the meantime Paul Kingsnorth’s wife Navjyoat has written this piece on why working with your hands- and teaching kids to do so is really important, especially in this digital age.

Home Edgeucated

(With thanks to our great friend, artist and T’ai Chi teacher Caroline Ross)

Since the summer, the children and I have continued to learn about evolution and prehistory of humankind. We have spent a lot of time discovering how hand tools were made and how they were developed and refined over a long period of time. By the Upper Palaeolithic, the making of microlithic and composite tools had become a diverse set of incredibly fine, precise skills and using those tools would have required similar hand proficiency.

Using hands while still living in the trees, becoming bipedal beings and then using and making tools, have been considered important markers (and possible conveyors) of our big primate brain evolution*, enabling us to become creatively human, and importantly helped to bond us socially through this shared hand-work.

Haptic perception is the scientific name given to the human ability to experience and interpret…

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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.

 

Old Hedge & SarahD_Comp

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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