(This page contain the text relating to hedgerows from the booklet The Countryside of Warsop Parish – Birds, hedgerows and plants in around the Hills and Holes that was published by Warsop Footpaths and Countryside Group in 2001. Most of the text appears elsewhere in this site, linked to areas on the map.)
Hedgerows represent one of the earliest forms of human boundaries present within the landscape. They have provided shelter to livestock, food and fuel for people, and prevented livestock from straying or mixing. In order to fulfil these functions, their continuing management was important. Laying of hedges developed in western Europe because the tree and shrub species found here grow up from their bases after being cut. By part-cutting through tree and shrub stems and laying the branches at an angle along the line of the hedgerow and weaving them around stakes driven into the ground, a thick, stock-proof hedge can be encouraged to develop.
Julius Caesar remarked on the difficulty his armies found in penetrating laid hedges during his campaigns against the Belgii two thousand years ago. Laid hedges formed essential parts of the English landscape until the advent of modern farm machinery. The move from labour intensive hedge-laying has seen the loss of both the ancient rural craft and the typical thick country hedge in many parts of the country. Indeed, many hedges have been lost entirely from the landscape.
The disappearance of hedgerows across Britain has been recognised as a threat to the wildlife heritage and landscape of Britain. Hedges have disappeared for a variety of reasons. They have been removed: for development, to make fields larger and to give better access for larger agricultural machines. They have also been destroyed by fire and they have been managed out of existence.
Laws now exist to prevent the wilful removal and destruction of important hedges; they do not and cannot prevent accidental or intentional damage by fire, by destruction through intense management, by cutting or flailing, or by treatment with fertilisers and herbicides. Economic pressures and financial inducements led to large-scale destruction of hedges following World War II and particularly during the 1970s.
These have now been replaced to some extent by financial subsidy and grant aid opportunities to sensitively manage existing hedges and to plant new ones. This has meant that the scale of losses has reduced and is now balanced across Britain by the creation of replacements, though not necessarily in the same locality.
The law now recognises the importance of hedgerows (the hedge and associated features) and hedges as part of our cultural heritage as well as for their environmental worth. Their value to local people should be improved and reinforced through providing information and education about their role, their history, their wildlife and their aesthetic character. Every hedgerow tells a story about the history of the local area.
The hedges within the area are rich in shrubs and trees. The age of Sookholme Lane and many of the other lanes is underlined by the number of woody species (trees and shrubs) to be found. Elms survive here as shrubs following the devastating effects of Dutch Elms disease. Many other tree species exist as hedgerow shrubs because of the management that takes place.
Without knowing the names of all the different woody and climbing species within the area it is possible to count them by collecting one or two of each of the different leaves that you see. If you visit the area during the summer you may find 20 or more different leaf types in this way.
Blackthorn is common throughout the area, but look out for Bullace, otherwise known as Wild Damson. This shrub was introduced to Britain by the Romans, and is abundant in the hedge adjacent to the Hills and Holes. Very similar to Blackthorn, it has similar shaped, but larger leaves and larger fruits. Both Blackthorn and Bullace flower before their leaves appear providing some of the first colours to welcome spring.
From Warsop to Hammerwater Bridge Sookholme Lane’s hedges contain much Dogwood. The leaves have a network of pale veins. It grows in profusion, and sometimes hides the less rampant, narrower-leaved, herring-boned veined Spindle. The latter was used in furniture making, hence the name. Also look out for Buckthorn. Its toothed leaves have side veins that curve up towards the top of the leaf. All three have leaves that are in pairs opposite each other up the stem and rather plain white or light green flowers that grow into berries. Dogwood and Buckthorn berries are black and round, Spindle’s are red – purple and have four lobes.
Alder Buckthorn is very uncommon within Warsop Parish and has not been found within the booklet area. It is similar to the above trio, but the untoothed leaves are arranged step-like up the stem, with no two leaves opposite each other. Its side veins do not curve up.
Along Sookholme Lane you will find sycamore-like leaves with a red tinge to the stems and veins. This is Field Maple, the only native maple species. It must have been well valued in the past judging by the number of place-names that make reference to it. Usually a shrub in hedges, it is in fact a tree species as can be seen by the fine example next to Hammerwater Bridge.
The eastern side of the lane contains a wide bank that has protected it from injurious management over a long time. This area contains Bluebell, Wood Melick, mature Oak, Holly, Ash, Hazel, Lords and Ladies and much more. The dead Elms provide a rich habitat for decomposing fungi and invertebrates as well as the birds that feed there. It is well worth spending a little time looking beyond the edge of the lane. In places along the lane, large sections are dominated by Holly. This was once fed to livestock as winter-feed because of the high nutrient value of its leaves.
Where steep or tall banks are found, the plants in the hedgerow are often those found within ancient woodland, for example Bluebell, Yellow Archangel and Wood Melick. These plants are indicators that the hedgerows have been in existence for many centuries.
Sookholme Lane from its junction with Spring Lane to the railway bridge provides a variety of hedgerow types. Mr. Sharpe of Herrings Farm has managed the laid sections over a number of years continuing an ancient craft that may date back more than 2000 years. The unusual style is due to the use of saplings as living support stakes. Large amounts of hazel have been rejuvenated by laying. The hedge is wide and impenetrable to both livestock and people. Look out for hazelnuts in late summer, they were once collected by countryfolk as a food source for both themselves and their livestock The bank on which the laid hedgerow sits forms the edge of the floodplain of Sookholme Brook. The course of the Brook was formerly winding, but was straightened and the adjoining land drained several centuries ago.
The Hills and Holes’ boundaries appeared on the first maps of the area in the early 1600s. These hedges therefore are older than most buildings in the surrounding villages! Their value as a habitat for wildlife, particularly for birds, and as reminders of our cultural heritage is priceless.
At the end of Stonebridge Lane, remnants of the lane’s hedges remain to remind us of its former glory. The bridge was originally a medieval packhorse bridge with a typical arching shape. The lane was probably used by traders and the hauliers of the time when they loaded their animals with goods and led them in trains of twenty or more horses right across the country using the network of old roadways. The bridge was replaced during the 1960s with the current construction. Over the bridge, the wide hedgerow covers the width of the old lane.
Immediately after the bridge, leading away at a right angle to the left, is a hedge line of Hawthorn that because of lack of management was allowed to grow into mature trees. Hawthorns tend to have a lifespan of generally not more than 100 years. These trees have been given another lease of life by cutting them down and allowing new growth to spring up. Perhaps in future years, in a new hedge line will be created.
After Stonebridge Lane, the paths fork towards both Warsop Vale and Church Warsop. The Church Warsop path skirts the River Meden flood plain along the edge of a finger of sandstone that sticks out onto the limestone and provides better drained and lighter soils.
From Stonebridge Lane to Warsop Vale, the path temporarily leaves the hedgerow. Passing through a dense thicket of Blackthorn that needs regular cutting to keep the path clear, the hedgerows are rejoined, again at the boundary of sandy and limestone-based soils. Note the difference between the hedges on each side of the path. The eastern side has been repeatedly affected by fire, but is probably the older of the two hedges. The much younger western hedge was probably created to keep people away from livestock in what was a pasture field.
The bank running through the field to the north is the only remains of a hedge that originally extended north beyond the road. Now called Carter Lane, the road itself did not exist until long after the hedge. Perhaps this boundary had some ancient importance as a marker to people of that time, or was the edge of a medieval field. Further research might show us what its role was. The bank may indicate that the hedge was originally planted on it, though that would have been long before the Enclosure Acts that divided up most of Britain from the 1700s onwards, or maybe it was created by centuries of ploughing that would have pushed the soil away from the headland beside the hedge. Today, all traces of the hedge have disappeared because of the fires that occur regularly on the well-drained sandy soil here.
The hedges that do remain along the Church Warsop path are different in structure to those found elsewhere in the area, but are probably just as old. Here they are often thin and straggly, containing more rough grasses, with bracken trying to take over long sections. Scattered Bluebell may be found during spring.
Carter Lane started life as a field track, became a lane and later a road. As it grew, adjacent hedges were moved apart. Most of the current roadside hedges are less than 50 years old. With only one or two woody species, these are poor relations compared to the hedges elsewhere. It will take centuries of growth and good management before they are of equal value for wildlife as those nearby.
Sookholme Moor was probably once an area of common grazing with thin, variable, poorly drained soils not suitable for ploughing. The eastern edge was the Parish boundary between Warsop and Sookholme. This area of Hawthorn and Blackthorn scrub has been disturbed by the creation of a drainage ditch taking mine water from Warsop Main Colliery probably along the line of a natural stream. The dense cover that this area provides is excellent for roosting and feeding birds. It provides good shelter for them from predators and humans.
On the south-western side of Sookholme Moor, running between Warsop Vale and Sookholme Brook, the lovely hedgerow includes a bank and a drain that would have taken water away from the medieval open fields that existed where Warsop Vale is now. The drain rarely holds water now, except following periods of prolonged heavy rainfall. The hedge is diverse, wide and provides good shelter for wildlife. Prior to the construction of Warsop Vale and the railway, this Hedge joined with other hedges beyond the current railway line. In acidic soil areas, Gorse scrub has developed, invading the hedge line.
Nearer Sookholme Brook, the wet nature of the ground allows Alder to grow as a hedgerow tree. A typical tree of riverbanks, Alder is able to grow in the poor, waterlogged soil because of its ability to utilise nitrogen made available by bacteria growing in symbiosis with its roots. The soil here is acidic and peaty, unlike most of the Hills and Holes which has a typical clay soil derived from the Magnesian Limestone rocks underneath.
Beside Sookholme Brook, lack of management over long periods including the exclusion of grazing animals has allowed the development of woodland between the hedgerow and Sookholme Brook. In places, the hedgerow is indistinguishable from the woodland. Trees have grown-up including mature English Oak, shading shrubs and threatening the long-term existence of the boundary as a hedge. Despite this, the woodland itself provides a rich habitat with many species typical of ancient wooded areas. Growing on the flood plain, with rich moist soils and plentiful shade, the woodland, though small in area, has a special atmosphere not to be missed. Where the soil is waterlogged and springs arise, a dense stand of willows proves impenetrable.
Across the Brook, the very thin soils allow plant roots to easily come into contact with the limestone rock, but here we find shrub species that prefer well-drained acid soils. This is because the good drainage allows rainfall to quickly wash away the soils nutrients. As a result, we can see acid-loving shrubs (Gorse and Broom) growing in close proximity to typical limestone plants. Parts of the hedgerow above have been devastated by fire at one time or another and therefore are very straggly. The abundant Gorse is able to invade the gaps.
The line of Bully Lane is all that is left of what was once a wonderful ‘Green Lane’ flanked by broad, rich hedgerows. East of the railway, the hedges were removed during the 1970-80s as part of the movement towards agricultural efficiency and increased cereal yields. The remaining section of the lane, west of the railway, is a sad reminder of how hedges can disappear by stealth over a period of time. The occasional Bluebell testifies to the age of the hedgerows, but only scattered shrubs mark their length. Fire devastated these hedges some time ago. Since then, they have been unable to recover due to periodic further fires, too close ploughing and some shrub removal.
Spring Lane has the character of a typical banked country lane. The banks on either side worn down by centuries of use, possibly for as long or longer than Sookholme Lane. Certainly, the lane existed long before Warsop Vale and Williamwood Farm. Perhaps it was the ancient route between Sookholme and Nether Langwith?
A recent fire has damaged one section of hedge but it is possible to see the hedgerows recovering, protected to some extent by the banks restricting access from the field sides. Further down, a large variety of trees and shrubs can be found including Buckthorn, abundant Holly, mature Ash trees and English Oak. Look out for the old laid Ash in the adjoining hedge to the west. This tree was laid as part of the hedge when young and has grown up in a large flattened Y shape as result.
Willows occurring near Sookholme Brook may have been planted or encouraged to support local basket making.
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