Camilla Swift

The joy of hedgerow foraging

  • From Spectator Life
Image: iStock

Hedgerows are one of those things that most of us simply take for granted. Drive, walk, cycle or ride through the English countryside and you’re likely to see fields bounded by hedges, which change with the seasons. Blossoming in the spring, full of colour and berries in the autumn, and sprouting wildly thorugh the summer months.

They are certainly having their moment in the sun. In the 1980s, farmers were encouraged under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy to grub them up (dig them up, in laymen’s speak) in a bid to create larger fields, and grow more food. 23 per cent of the nation’s hedgerows were lost in that decade. But now Defra have recognised the benefits of hedgerows, and ecologists, rewilding fanatics and many of the more ecologically-minded farmers and landowners are restoring and replanting hedgerows. Under their new ‘sustainable farming incentive’, Defra will be encouraging hedgerow management as they view hedges as playing an important role in carbon sequestration.

Prince Charles has long been a fan of the traditional British hedgerow – he is even patron of the National Hedgelaying Society. On the recent documentary Inside the Duchy, Charles was seen laying hedges on his Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. ‘I am always proud of maintaining a traditional skill that is of timeless importance’, he told Country Life magazine – and hedge laying is very much a British-dominated skill. If there were a hedge-laying Olympics, we’d definitely be top of the medals tables. Involving the arching, bending and partial cutting of stems to encourage them to intertwine and grow horizontally, the laying of a hedgerow stops it from becoming too ‘gappy’ and encourages regeneration of the plants within it. It is far from a simple skill, however. Pretty much each county of the UK has its own distinctive style of hedgelaying, developed based on what the farmers were traditionally trying to keep in (hence the ‘bullock style’ of the Midlands), the climate, and the types of trees and plants that grow there.

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Prince Charles is patron of the National Hedgelaying Society.

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