The Origins of Hedgerows
Its thought hedgerows have arisen from the use by early humans of thorny plants for corralling livestock using ‘dead hedges’. With the advent of agriculture, clearance of woodland created fields with tree & shrub boundaries that were managed to create livestock-proof ‘living fences’. Hedgerows have been planted since the times of the Romans but reached their peak in Britain during the enclosure acts of the 1700s when an estimated 200,000miles of mostly hawthorn hedgerows were planted.ries of property.
As well as being used for livestock protection, they have many other beneficial uses: protecting soil from wind erosion; homes for insect predators of crop pests; water regulation and natural flood management; wood fuel; and foraging. They are massively important for over 2000 species of plants and animals especially in agricultural areas.
Hedgerows can be single species but are best with a diversity of plants. The hedge below was planted by volunteers at Mount Wolfe Farm in 2017 and contains American hazelnut, gray dogwood, chokeberry, nannyberry, arrowwood, serviceberry, black chokeberry and fragrant sumac. Planting was in a double line spaced 40cm (16in) apart with plants in a staggered pattern at 30cm (12in), giving 5 plants per metre (see left).
Hedgerows are composed of living shrubs which will grow and need management. There is a balance which needs to be found between allowing shrubs to grow and keeping the hedge from becoming a line of trees , developing gaps and eventually becoming useless.
Hedges can be cut to slow their growth but annual cutting can limit flower production and limit the development of fruits, berries & seeds. Annual cutting also stresses and can kill plants eventually. Cutting every 2/3 years, increasing the cut height by a few inches every time has been shown to maintain the health of the hedge
As a hedgerow grows, the shrubs will thicken and become gappy at the base. At some point it will be necessary to rejuvenate the hedge which can be achieved by coppicing-cutting the hedge down and allowing them to regrow., however during this time it cannot function as a hedge. The practice of Hedgelaying has evolved to rejuvenate a hedge while still maintaining a stock-proof structure.
Hedgelaying is a catch-all term used to describe the rejuvenation of a hedge from the base by cutting (see left top) and laying-over’ of the shrub (left middle) There are many different styles of Hedgelaying throughout the world. In some styles wooden stakes are positioned at intervals along the hedge and long ‘binders’ are woven in across the top to give the hedge strength (bottom length a South of England Style Hedge)
Do you have a hedgerow in need of management? We need hedgerows to teach hedgelaying workshops! Initially we are looking at hedgerows In Southern Ontario with the following features:
Approximately 2.4-3m (8-12ft) tall
50-100mm (2-4") thick (can be cut using hand tools)
Frequent along the line of hedge (<2 per metre)