Maintaining the hedgerows

Something else we know little about but are going to have to find out about sharpish is how to maintain our hedgerows so that they continue to be productive hedges.

We have getting on for a kilometre of hedgerow overall. The long run bordering the cliff and also running along the end of the second meadow has not been cut or maintained for many years and is very raggedy. The hedgerow plants have tended to billow up into trees and then succumb to overwhelming ivy. Last December when we first took the meadows on, this length of hedgerow was thick with Magpies and Jays, feasting on the berries.

The length of hedgerow opposite the cliff runs along a farmers field and this had been rigorously trimmed by him last autumn.

The hedgerow dividing the two fields was previously regularly cut by a farmer but it was not cut last year.

We understand the following basic principles for maintaining our hedgerows as explained by Neil from Kent Wildlife:

It is necessary to trim the hedges every few years to maintain them as hedges rather than as trees.

We should aim to be cutting our hedges once every three years in a rotational sequence. That is, only cutting a third of them each year, thus leaving two thirds with all its fruit on it to support the wildlife in the ‘hunger gap’ of late winter, early spring when all other food sources are exhausted.

A healthy hedgerow is an ‘A’ shape, wider at the bottom than at the top.

That is about all we know about hedgerows at the moment. There is an awful lot more that we should know about them and we have been referred to relevant sites by Neil and so there is much homework to be done, if only we weren’t so busy in the fields. We are having such a lovely spell of weather – Its absolutely glorious out there day after day but a little part of me wishes that it would just rain for a while so that we have an excuse to stop working on the land – its completely exhausting for two middle aged people who have spent most of their lives to date sitting behind desks and whose bodies are not used to this level of physical activity.

Having said all that, we decided to give the cutting and raking up of the second meadow a break for today and experiment with hacking back a bit of hedgerow to see how easy it is or, indeed, how difficult it is.

We are not over-endowed with equipment. We each had a pair of thick gardening gloves. We had a step ladder (we intend to buy one of those Japanese tripod ladders  but haven’t got round to it yet) and a petrol-driven hedge cutter which is actually quite powerful, having only ever used electric or battery-powered hedge trimmers before.

This looks just so much better
This looks just so much better

We tackled a 20 foot section of hedgerow either side of the lower single gate between the fields and did a general trim up. What we achieved is pleasing and satisfyingly tidy looking, also giving a better view over it into the second meadow. But we now know that balancing up a step ladder, holding a heavy petrol cutter at arms length hacking through thick brambles is not a feasible proposition for the ongoing hedgerow maintenance plan. We are going to need to get help from people with the correct machinery to get this done. We also cut off an awful lot of blackberries so perhaps we are doing this job too early. This 20 foot stretch produced two Hippo bags of viciously thorned clippings that we now have bagged up and plan to take to the dump tomorrow. Once we decide what part of the meadows to sacrifice as a bonfire site, then I suppose we would burn this sort of stuff.

Special Projects

After a very hard day in the fields yesterday (my FitBit told me I’d done 37,000 steps by bedtime, but I didn’t need it to tell me that, I knew by the way my old bones felt), I didn’t feel like getting straight out back to it today and so amused myself doing ‘special projects’ which was euphemistic code for avoiding doing hard work by busying myself with habitat creation.

First off, we had given an overgrown Holm Oak a hair cut and so I used some of the wood to create a woodpile down by the pond.

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I was delighted to see a dragonfly basking on in within an hour of creating it.

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Then I buried the Hedgehog house we’d had for sometime but hadn’t yet got round to putting anywhere – perhaps because we are yet to see a hedgehog, and the infrared trap camera has never caught one at night either.

I put some hay inside the house and positioned it in thickish cover down by the pond. Then I put a tarpaulin over it and covered it in a thick layer of wood chip from the Holm Oak surgery and sticks on top. I think it looks great and, maybe even if we don’t have hedgehogs, something else will appreciate it over the winter.

The Big Day Dawns….

…that the grab arm lorry was coming to collect all the hay. We’d been told they would be coming first thing and so we were up and out at first light, raking, rowing, bagging and transporting as much hay as we could from the second meadow to a big pile that we were formimg at the gate between the fields so that the lorry didn’t have to drive into the second field and potentially compress the ground. When you have started at 6.30am before breakfast, by the time it got to 8am when they were due, I found myself hoping they’d jolly well arrive so that I could stop.

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Forming an additional great pile of hay by the gate between the fields

But they didn’t arrive and so we had to go on and on until it felt like we’d been raking up hay our whole lives.

We rang them at ten to learn that, on their way to us, they’d gone under a railway bridge in Sutton and got stuck but had also knocked the bridge and so the trains had had to be stopped. Just thinking about all the disruption to all those people because we wanted our hay shifted was a most uncomfortable thought.

So, they never arrived. And further information on this bridge incident plus more on why it is now alright to compost this stuff even though it almost certainly contains the seeds of ‘injurious weeds’  will have to wait until next week when they are due to come again.