Rural Matters

THE IMPORTANCE OF HEDGEROWS

In 2000 our future CPRE President, Bill Bryson, wrote: “For well over a thousand years hedgerows have been a defining attribute of rural England, the stitching that holds the fabric of the countryside together. From a distance they give the landscape form and distinction. Up close they give it life, filling fields and byways with birdsong and darting insects and the furtive rustles of rodents…Hedgerows don’t merely enhance the countryside. They make it.” Nowhere is this more true than in the pastoral landscape of North Dorset, with the added realization of the key role hedgerows can play in halting biodiversity decline and tackling climate change, by capturing carbon from the air and storing it in plants.

Thomas Hardy’s “Vale of the Little Dairies” in the Blackmore Vale is characterised by its irregular patchwork of small fields divided by ancient hedgerows. Some hedges are Bronze Age, maybe even Neolithic, in origin. As the first farmers began clearing small areas for cultivation, they left strips of trees as boundaries.

The post-war decades were incredibly damaging with farmers encouraged to grub up hedgerows to intensify food production, although the destruction was much less marked in pastoral North Dorset than in arable East Anglia. In 1980 we called for an end to these grants and for the same protection to be given to hedgerows as were given to trees. Yet in this decade the UK was still losing 4,000 miles of hedgerows a year. In 1990 the government’s first-ever Environment White Paper accepted our case for statutory hedgerow protection, although it was not until 1997 that hedgerow regulations were finally introduced. In recent years the situation has stabilized, but many hedgerows are in poor condition. We welcomed the government’s Committee on Climate Change report in 2019 calling for a 40% extension of the UK’s hedgerows, but sadly the government has done little to implement this. This May the government announced an action plan to restore and enhance trees and peatland, but inexplicably left hedgerows out.

Dorset CPRE is involved in a new project, called Hedgerow Heroes, to plant or restore over 15 kilometres of hedge across the country, including the planting of over 50,000 trees. On the Hinton Admiral Estate straddling the Dorset/ Hampshire border, it involves the planting of 1.7 km of new hedgerow and improving a further 1.3 km of existing hedgerow to create a better habitat for wildlife, and improve the amenity value of the area. We are looking for similar projects in North Dorset too, but also volunteers who would like to help on the Hinton Admiral project (please email info@dorset-cpre.org.uk). Most people are now focused on planting trees to offset climate change, but do consider a hedge too. Remember it is not just the birds, insects and small mammals that will be grateful, but your children too.

Rupert Hardy, Chairman North Dorset CPRE

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