Pollinator haven, safe bird nesting site, foragers’ larder, fire log provider, curious sheep escape prevention system... welcome to Hart's wild and wandering ode to hedges....

Pollinator haven, safe bird nesting site, foragers’ larder, fire log provider, curious sheep escape prevention system, climate change heat-of-the-day shade giver, sequester-er of carbon, patterns in the landscape of our tourist brochures, hedge uses current and forgotten are explored in Christopher Hart’s new book, Hedgelands. 

Focusing on the often-missed fact that, even with the government supported mass grubbing up of hedges to allow for larger more efficient to work fields since the 1950s, we still have around 400,000 km of hedges in Britain, the book encourages us to love and restore our existing hedges.  In fact, Hart argues that much of the money currently spent on woodland creation would be far better spent ensuring our hedges are managed in more nature friendly ways largely because these hedges already exist in our landscape and so do not require more land to be taken out of food production and offer such an array of ‘Natural Capital Services’. 

The well surveyed and studied Underhill hedge, in Wiltshire owned by Jonathan Thomson is a thread throughout the book that Hart uses to illustrate the positive impact of conservation hedge laying.  Through the pages this one hedge provides a window into the extraordinary list of potential inhabitants of hedges which hum, tweet, croak and squeak, and the flora, trees and fungi that surround them.   

Taking us back to our childhood blackberry stained fingers, Hart reminds us that hedges are ‘living food banks that keep on giving’ and how this can be further enhanced through encouraging native fruit trees which also provide pollinators with a blossom feast in the spring.  Their connection into the folklore and lives of our ancestors who created the, once much more extensive network of hedges across Britain, is pause for thought just in terms of the manual effort to bring them into being and then maintain them. 

Whilst Hart’s book provides those looking for nature restoration inspiration an array of reasons to focus on hedges and even some practical tips on the best ways to restore or create hedges, it is also sobering in the facts he presents on the decline of species and neglect of our landscape in the face of economic gain. If you are a big reader of ecology books you may feel there is too much repetition of oft trotted out statistics, but the overall message has merit.

Reviewed by Alice Lewthwaite, Project Management Coach, Riverford

Hedgelands: A wild wander around Britain’s greatest habitat, by Christopher Hart (Chelsea Green Publishing)

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