Of Hedgehogs and Hedgerows
"Curse him, root and branch! Many of those trees were my friends, creatures I had known from nut and acorn; many had voices of their own that are lost forever now. And there is a waste of stump and bramble where once there were singing groves. I have been idle. I have let things slip. It must stop!" The Lord of the Rings - 'The Two Towers'.
As mentioned in my previous posts, Ian and I consider ourselves stewards of the land entrusted to our care. Part of that stewardship involves an agricultural principle that we have chosen to follow called gleaning. This principle has its roots in ancient times when grain and produce that was dropped during the harvest was available for the poor to gather or “glean”. In Biblical times, the corners of the fields were also designated for the poor. Exactly how big a farmer’s corners had to be was left for each man to decide for himself. Essentially this placed a landowner’s generosity on very public display; the size of a man’s heart was determined by the size of his corners.
Since grass is not an edible crop; we have chosen to follow this principle by designating a 10-foot corridor around the perimeter of our property for developing a series of hedgerows. This area serves as the “corners” of our fields, meeting the needs of our smaller, feathered and furred neighbors.
Largely alien to the rest of the world, hedgerows have been a defining feature of the British landscape for hundreds of years. The earliest date back to the bronze age and there remain over 700,000 kilometers of hedgerows that crisscross the patchwork fields of rural England. These living fences link isolated patches of habitat scattered across the landscape, allowing wildlife to move safely from one place to another and provide thick, flora-rich, hedges where beneficial insects, mammals, and birds can find shelter, nest, and forage. This is especially true if you include native plants in your hedgerows as these plants help support a much wider range of wildlife. Hedgerows also help reduce soil erosion and water run-off on arable land.
Unlike American hedges (which are comprised of a single species), hedgerows include 2 to 3 rows of plantings that vary in height and function. These might include canopy and understory trees, fruit trees, berry and nut bushes, flowering and native trees and shrubs, evergreen trees and bushes, herbs, flowers, and ground cover.
We already had a border of established oak trees on our property, so after fencing off a sizeable corridor, we planned to stagger our second level plantings of small-to-medium native shrubs in front of, and in between, these foundation plants. Once these were established, we would add non-woody herbs and ground cover.
Since hedgerows are often planted along the edges of a property, this is a great way to fit in habitat for wildlife without taking away from your core food production areas. And let's be honest, will the few feet gained by planting to the very edge of your field really make such a big difference to your bottom line? For us, the benefits far out way the sacrifice. Plus we will have the added advantage of having a fenced off, shaded bridle path on the property for trail riding.