Hedges, lambs, walls

This week has been somewhat enigmatic;  I am surrounded by lambs, my daffodils are out, there’s swallows overhead but its been snowing !                       

April Fool's Day - absolutely !

Not at all the weather for Dry Stone Walling so I spent most of the week planting trees, well actually planting trees in both a small piece of woodland and new and old hedgerows.  Its an activity I have indulged in since 1973 ! Can you believe that, some of you may recall a Forestry Commission campaign to ‘Plant a Tree in 73’, (at that time I was a teacher and had an environmental group which worked for two afternoons a week in a small 7 hectare forest that I had got the FC to ‘give’ the school), since then I have made it my (fulfilled) task to plant at least 100 trees a year, most years I’ve done a whole lot more; this year is no different.

Planting trees is the same ‘bending down’ activity as dry stone walling – both hopefully have equal longevity and benefit to the environment.  But, doing it properly takes a bit longer, some tlc for the samll delicate root system of the new plants pays dividends in the growth rate.  A factor called RGP: – root growth potential – which is the fundamental in terms of successful growing is hugely dependent on how one treats these young trees.  Do you know the FC did research some years ago that showed merely throwing the bag of saplings of the back of a pick-up knocked growth back by up to ten years.

More of a crime is the common method of planting, the ‘plunge, plant, press’ method which consists of thrusting a metal pole into the ground, swirling it around to make a hole, pushing the roots of the young plant into it then, with the booted heel, pounding the soil back around.  Instant death I’m afraid; the soil is too compacted by the swirling, the roots cannot penetrate the soil, water fills the hole, often which is just air because the soil was not placed around the roots, and in any case the fibrous roots have been squashed flat by the heeling in.  

 So I’m afraid I am a little OCD about tree planting, but then I charge by the hour to do it so that’s not too bad, in any case my customers trust me to do it because they know I will do it right.

I’ll just mention – without going into too much detail (I’ll say more if anybody is interested) that I plant according to stellar and lunar phases, for instance a Virgo day in the waning moon phase is good etc etc – I use a pre-printed guide in case you imagine I know what day is what !  The results are impressive.  I recently gave a talk to a sustainability ‘green’ group about the uses for coppice products, when I told them that if they wanted to cut timber which they did not want to ever burn – for instance a fire surround or a chimney lintel ! – it should be cut on the 1st March, preferably after sunset, they were somewhat sceptical.  Apparently everyone in the group did however cut a piece of timber after sunset on the said date and will attempt to burn it on bonfire night – believe me, it won’t burn !!

Incidentally, have you noticed how some trees seem to have a distinct spiral in the way they grow, almost like an old turned standard lamp, some spiral to the right, some straight and others to the leftt.  Lightening only strikes those with a right spiral –  try it !

Anyway, so hedgerows are a passion of mine too.  Properly cared for they will last – and have  lasted – for hundreds of years.  They give excellent free resources for people, plants and animals.  The value of hedgerows in centuries past was widely appreciated and protected.  Coppice timber, fruit, herbage, shelter, all were important to rural communities.  today we ignore that potential, we have stopped, for the most part, grubbing them out (though only after hundreds of miles have gone) but we regard them as a nuisance, a bit like a lawn which constantly needs mowing !

The beauty of a laid hedge is more than visual; it represents the skill and love of the hedger, the recognition of the value of that hedge to the land and the animals which the farmer keeps thereon, the outline of a landscape centuries old and, probably most importantly today, it is the single most important habitat for flora and fauna.  We must cherish them.

 Even where hedges are laid instead of trashed – (unfortunately mostly only now undertaken through stick and carrot environmental grants schemes such as the agri-environment all farm scheme Tir Gofal –  but it is not long for this world being replaces by Glas-tir, which will not ensure the capital expenditure on hedgelaying – nor for that matter dry stone walling – sufficient to protect our hedges or keep the craft alive), more often than not the ‘waste’ timber, the trash, is just burned or chipped.  Nobody seems to value the timber that is the bi-product of hedge-laying.  These are dangerous times, far from going back to the future, we could be going back only to the post war massacre of the countryside.

Waste from hedgelaying
This pile of valuable timber was just torched – with tyres and deisel !

How do we reconcile burning this trash after sensibly ‘laying’ the hedge ?  Worse still, how is using a chipper – because burning is regarded as terribly environmentally unfriendly – powered by the diesel engine of a 300hp tractor – running for all day – more green !  The lunatics are definately running the assylum !!   There is so much that this timber could be used for, and it would provide employment and give hope to dying crafts.                                                                                       

 If my genie ever came out of my lamp – and God knows it gets rubbed eough – just one wish would do it for me.  I would ban, stop, make a capital hanging offence, this stupid obscenity of countryside care. 

Let our Hedges Grow and Grow and Grow – trim only the sides and lay them every 10 years !!!  Forget ‘tidiness’, the car driver, the tractor owner, save a countryside, save a skill, save the most important habitat.  Save money too!!

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