The Government should focus on preparing for extreme risks rather than trying to predict them

Tina Bath is outdoor once we discuss – the wind is whistling within the hedges about her and he or she has to lift her voice to make herself heard. She pauses in her paintings to talk to me. 

She tells me about her family: Somerset farmers, who in years gone by had hired dozens of labourers. part of the seasonal work of those labourers used to be hedgelaying – renovating hedges thru a process of reducing and weaving – and yet, with the passing of time, knowledge of this ancient follow had died out. 

‘My dad requested a chum of his who was a hedgelayer to come and look after the hedges at the farm, as a result of with the labourers no longer there any more, we’d lost that craft within the family. i thought I’d have a pass at it – and that i actually enjoyed it.’

Thirty-five years on, Bathtub, now 60, remains to be at it. Hedgelaying has turn out to be her greatest interest and her career; at the same time as she spends the summer season months running a wide range of jobs, from mole-catching to development dry-stone walls on the Mendip Hills, the place she lives, she spends her winters turning thin, straggly hedges into dense and energetic barriers.

Hedges are one among probably the most complicated and wildlife-wealthy parts of the British panorama. There are part a million miles of hedgerows in our countryside they usually supply necessary safe haven and meals for a limiteless range of species, from songbirds to butterflies, lichens to rare mammals and reptiles. 

you’ll think of them as a virtually never-ending nature reserve, stretched lengthy and thin. But no longer all hedges are the similar and you want to deal with a hedge when you need the life inside of it to flourish.

'I thought I’d have a go at it – and I really enjoyed it': Tina Bath, who has 35 years of experience hedgelaying, at work in Somerset ‘i believed I’d have a pass at it – and i truly loved it’: Tina Tub, who has 35 years of expertise hedgelaying, at work in Somerset Credit Score: Marco Kesseler

‘Everyone who has hedgerows in their garden will realize how essential they’re for garden birds,’ Bath tells me. ‘in case you have a look at the activity of birds in a hedge, you’ll see there are spaces the place the hedge is demise out at the backside or the place it has advanced gaps or simply been allowed to develop so high that it has no coverage worth any further. there will be no birds there. So, you need to maintain it reduce in iciness to stimulate that low expansion, but now not reduce in any respect right through nesting season.’ 

Then, every decade or two – hedges are living slower lives than we do – you want to get your hedge laid through knowledgeable like Bath.

There had been hedges in Britain in view that Roman instances: the oldest surviving one is Judith’s Hedge, next to the B1090 in Cambridgeshire, planted by way of a niece of William the Conqueror in the 11th century. It was through the agricultural revolution of the 18th century that hedges were based as the obstacles of selection for the British countryside, regardless that. 

As not unusual land regularly handed into non-public ownership with the Acts of Enclosure, the hedge became a symbol of a new method of occupied with the shape of britain’s rural areas.

This novelty handed and we soon began to take our hedges for granted. Almost 200,000 miles of hedges have been grubbed up within the years among 1950 and 1995, as commercial agriculture sought ever-higher fields to accommodate its gargantuan machines. 

Now, the Prince of Wales, as customer of the Nationwide Hedgelaying Society, desires us to realize how important our hedgerows are in fighting the twin crises of local weather change and biodiversity, and the the most important role hedgelaying can play in preserving our hedges wholesome.

The Prince has greater than 15 miles of hedges at Highgrove – lots of which he laid himself. Whilst lockdown hit ultimate spring, he, like a lot of us, turned to one thing he cherished to get him throughout the surprising vacancy of the days: he planted hedges.

The Prince of Wales appeared on an episode of Countryfile alongside Matt Baker; this was to highlight the importance of hedgelaying The Prince of Wales appeared on an episode of Countryfile alongside Matt Baker; this was to spotlight the significance of hedgelaying Credit: BBC

The Prince and that i alternate emails within the run-as much as certainly one of the signature dates within the Highgrove calendar: the annual iciness hedgelaying pageant. ‘i am certain that, like so many parts of the nation-state,’ the Prince writes, ‘other folks suppose that hedgerows have at all times been there and can at all times be there, however what other people simply don’t understand is how a lot is keen on planting and handling a hedgerow and in addition how many lots of miles of hedgerows had been misplaced, in particular in the identify of “agricultural efficiency”, within the 2d half the twentieth century.’

On December FOUR, dozens of hedgelayers – from world experts to beginners – will come to Highgrove to celebrate their elaborate, compelling and essential craft. 

it is no longer a homogenous practice – Welsh layers address their hedges in a somewhat other fashion to these in the Midlands or the south-west – but its essence is still the similar: to renovate and reinvigorate tired hedges by way of a means of chopping and tying back, allowing light into the heart of the hedge and stimulating new expansion.

‘i have much loved laying some of the hedges myself at Highgrove, to boot as web hosting events for the Nationwide Hedgelaying Society here,’ the Prince tells me. 

‘Those traditional skills, many of which greatly benefit biodiversity and habitats, are swiftly being misplaced for every kind of reasons, mechanisation being considered one of them, but also the reality that individuals, specifically young people, don’t seem to be taught approximately rural lifestyles nor instructed that there are fulfilling careers to be had operating in the countryside.’

Spend some time with hedgelayers and also you’re initiated into an intimate society with its personal dialect, traditions and obsessions. while you first method a hedge to lay it, you need a billhook – a machete with a hooked end – on your hand to cut out any lifeless or decaying picket and a heavy pair of gloves to drag out brambles. 

then you do what is known as ‘plashing’ or ‘pleaching’ (or, when you’re in Devon, ‘steeping’), where you chop the trunk of the tree approximately 9 tenths of the way down and three quarters of the way through, then fold the nonetheless-connected branches to the facet. should you don’t cut some distance enough in the course of the trunk, it begins to separate while you attempt to fold it again, one thing the antique hands confer with as a ‘hake’s mouth’ for the jagged teeth-like splinters that emerge. 

New expansion will spring from the stump, which hedgelayers name a ‘stobbin’. then you – consistent with whether or not you’re following the Midlands taste, the Westmorland style or the Brecon style (or any collection of other permutations) – place stakes at regular intervals to carry the hedge in place, then weave the laid branches right into a dense plait. A well-laid hedge is a near-impenetrable barrier to include livestock. It’s also a specific thing of significant attractiveness.

'I first hedged here on the farm with my father when I was 10, in 1953, learning the skills. I’ve never stopped': Roger Parris with a newly laid beech hedge on his Devon farm ‘I first hedged right here on the farm with my father whilst i used to be 10, in 1953, finding out the abilities. I’ve by no means stopped’: Roger Parris with a newly laid beech hedge on his Devon farm Credit: Marco Kesseler

In The lead-up to the Highgrove competition, I talk to the person who taught the Prince of Wales how to put hedges, Roger Parris, a 78-yr-antique dairy farmer and expert hedgelayer from Devon. I trap him between journeys to go to his herd; his huge West Us Of A accessory is like a blast of Exmoor air down the line. ‘I first hedged right here at the farm with my father while i used to be 10, in 1953, studying the abilities. I’ve by no means stopped. I’m still hedgelaying now,’ he tells me.

Over that length, Parris has witnessed first-hand the devastation of our hedgerows. ‘With brand new equipment now, you’ll’t get the gadget into a two-acre box to function. a few of the massive farms have 100-, TWO HUNDRED-acre fields. Now, they might run a hedge across them and halve them and it might make a huge distinction.’

that is a message I listen many times from the hedgelayers I discuss to: that restoring hedges to our rural panorama is a fairly simple act, however person who could have dramatic outcomes both for our flora and fauna and the local weather, to not point out the part hedges play in mitigating flood chance.

As one of people who lend a hand organise the Highgrove competition, Parris is conscious of the succession problem in hedgelaying. ‘You’ve were given to coach youngsters,’ he says. 

‘Sadly, because of the pandemic, we’ve been unable to do training anyplace in the united states of america for the prior few years, so we’ve were given very few youth coming via at the moment.’ It’s not all doom and gloom, regardless that – he issues out that eight younger Welsh cutters will likely be coming to the contest, where they will be taught by means of a bunch of professional Welsh hedgelayers.

a number of the younger era of layers is John Exton, a 33-12 months-old hedgelayer from Melton Mowbray. We talk within the evening – it’s the beginning of the hedgelaying season and Exton has been out operating all day. He tells me that he used to be studying land management at college while a instruct invited him on a hedgelaying commute. 

He never appeared back – however recognises that a lifetime of arduous and poorly paid paintings outdoor in the parts is not everyone’s thought of a laugh. ‘It’s a death art,’ he tells me. ‘Now Not many of us want to do it for a living. Even in case you can persuade them to do a direction in hedgelaying, after they see what hard work it’s, they don’t want to carry it on. 

It’s all I do all wintry weather. I help out on the family farm and do slightly of gardening, however hedgelaying is what I do seven days a week in iciness. If I got the danger, i might even do it on Christmas Day.’

There’s no disguising the reality that the means of hedgelaying can look brutal to the layperson. An act that may be profoundly essential so as to extend the lifetime of the hedge would possibly first of all look like an act of vandalism. 

‘a chum of mine has had people handcuff themselves to the hedge as he was laying it,’ Exton tells me. ‘He had to get the police involved to get them off the hedge. they only wouldn’t imagine he was once saving it, no longer destroying it.’

Exton’s love of hedgelaying comes from the beauty of the landscapes through which he works, but in addition the closeness of the hedgelaying community. ‘i truly do find it irresistible,’ he says. ‘Each hedge is a problem and that i love that problem. With the competitions, with Prince Charles’s event in particular, it’s a social experience and i’ve met other people from throughout the rustic, they usually’re in point of fact close friends now.’

John Exton is among the younger generation of hedgelayers John Exton is among the more youthful generation of hedgelayers Credit: Thomas Wynne

He has even had the opportunity to meet the Prince himself. ‘The Prince is admittedly implausible,’ he says. ‘He’s a credit score to the whole lot he does. the first time I ever met him, it used to be really daunting as a result of i used to be 25 and he got here up to me and we had a real just right snicker. He was once so down to earth; he used to be there in his operating garments with duct tape on his coat. While I shook his hand, i thought it might be slightly comfortable, nevertheless it was a working guy’s hand with calluses on it and a blister on his thumb. What an unbelievable gentleman, and he’s simply performed so much for us hedgelayers. we will be able to’t thank him sufficient.’

The Prince of Wales has grow to be an evangelist for the practice, having seen first-hand the benefits it brings to the agricultural landscape. He’s best a force not only to replant the hedges misplaced in the course of the thuggish primacy of industrial agriculture, but in addition to teach people methods to take care of these hedges as soon as they’re planted.

‘Hedgerows are severely vital to sustaining biodiversity,’ the Prince tells me, ‘in order that the more diverse they’re in composition themselves, the more species they’re going to give a boost to. But they are able to most effective do this if they’re correctly managed in a time-honoured means, so that animals and birds can take pleasure in flowering and fruiting, and stay undisturbed at vital instances. 

we will be able to best wish that, under new agricultural schemes, farmers may be rewarded for bringing again well-controlled hedgerows, hedgerow and box bushes, woodlands, wild-flower meadows and different lost habitats – thereby making a resilient and durable farming operation that may be in team spirit with nature.’

The Prince is raring to worry, despite the fact that, that the teachings of hedgelaying aren’t just for people with estates like Highgrove, or farmers and different large landowners. ‘the wonderful thing approximately hedges is that they come in all shapes and sizes,’ he says, ‘so even a small lawn can accommodate, as an example, a box, privet or yew hedge, in which small songbirds can are seeking for coverage, refuge and nesting sites. Subsequently, particularly, we do need to “get the message” in the market in regards to the important importance of hedges whatever the space to be had, and tips on how to plant and deal with them.’

And if he may just best have one type of hedge? ‘i’ve many favourites, but it surely will depend on the region. In The gardens at Highgrove, i’ve beech, hornbeam and yew hedges, however within the wider landscape, there is nothing better than a combined native hedge offering safe haven, blossom and a supply of meals for a bunch of natural world.’ A function, possibly, for all people.

Creatures of the hedgerows


Hazel dormice are rare and vulnerable to extinction in the UK Hazel dormice are uncommon and prone to extinction in the UNITED KINGDOM Credit: Alamy Photographs

The hazel dormouse is the vintage hedgerow mammal and likewise certainly one of our most endangered species. More common are the financial institution voles and field mice that use hedges for cover and food. At night, bats make use of hedgerows as refuge and to help with navigation. A Few species of bat, such as the greater and lesser horseshoe, take bugs right away from foliage, known as ‘gleaning’.


Green finches, which are in rapid decline, prefer lower hedges for nesting Inexperienced finches, that are in fast decline, choose lower hedges for nesting Credit: Mark Hamblin

More Than 30 species of British birds nest in our hedges. Turtle doves and bullfinches nest in high hedges – more than 4 metres tall – even as whitethroats, linnets and greenfinches favor lower hedges. Wrens and dunnocks nest low down in dense hedges, with chaffinches, track thrushes and blackbirds higher up.


Stag beetles are a classed 'priority species' and listed on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act Stag beetles are a classed ‘priority species’ and indexed on Agenda FIVE of the Natural World and Countryside Act Credit: Alamy Photographs

Considered One Of the explanations that hedges are this type of wealthy source of natural world is the an important habitat they supply for bugs. some of our most pretty butterflies depend on hedgerows as caterpillars; the brown hairstreak caterpillar lives on blackthorn bushes, for example. Within The mulch beneath the hedge, you’ll in finding stag beetles, while higher up are scorpion flies and bumblebees.

Do you think that more other people will have to take in hedgelaying? let us know in the comments phase beneath

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