Changes during the last two centuries
By looking at the boundaries recorded on the 1835 Sanderson map and comparing them with later data we obtained an approximate picture of the changes to our countryside. We cannot be sure whether all the 1835 boundaries were hedgerows but it seems probable that most were.
From all of the total length of all of the boundaries investigated
– 45% existed in 1835 and still exists
– 4% appeared between 1835 and 1976 and still exists
– 1% appeared since 1976 and still exists
– 32% disappeared between 1835 and 1947
– 14% disappeared between 1947 and 1976
– 4% disappeared since 1976
From the 32% that disappeared between 1835 and 1947
– 39% of the loss in that period was from enlarging arable fields
– 25% was from the creation of plantation woodland
– 16% was from housing development
– 15% was from colliery sites and waste tips
From the 14% that disappeared between 1947 and 1976
– 55% of the loss in that period was from enlarging arable fields
– 24% was from colliery sites and waste tips
– 17% was from housing development
From the smaller length (4%) that has disappeared since 1976
– 79% of the loss in that period was from enlarging arable fields
– 20% was from colliery sites and waste tips
Of the total length of lost boundaries over the whole period
– 46% was from enlarging arable fields
– 18% was from colliery sites and waste tips
– 17% was from the creation of plantation woodland
– 15% was from housing development
Some of these changes can be illustrated by looking at maps of two parts of Warsop.
These maps show a kilometre square that includes Ling Lane just beyond the former Scout Camp. On the earlier map the Lings remained as heathland or farmed land before becoming forestry plantations. The later maps show the loss of hedgerows as fields were enlarged in the second half of the 20th century.
Hedges have been a feature of the British landscape for thousands of years. Archaeologists have discovered the earliest evidence of a managed hedgerow near Peterborough. This blackthorn hedge was dated to 2500 BC. It ran alongside a Bronze Age field boundary ditch.
Planting a hedgerow is just one of three ways it may be created. It may also be seeded along the line of a fence or deadhedge made up of cut branches. Birds usually distribute the seeds through their droppings. The third method is where a remnant of woodland is left to form a boundary along the edge of an area that it has been cleared.
Once established there is a tendency for the number of shrub species in a hedgerow to increase, usually with the help of birds. This allows the age of a hedge to be estimated using Hooper’s Rule. According to this rule the number of tree and shrub species counted in a 30 yard length of a hedgerow is approximately equal to its age in centuries. This method should be used with caution, applying it to a hedge that Warsop Footpaths & Countryside Group planted a couple of years ago suggests that it is already 500 years old! However our survey of the hedge between Sookholme Lane and the Hills and Holes revealed 12 species but as it is alongside an ancient route it is quite possible that it is over a thousand years old. It is unfortunate that the present lack of management could result in this magnificent hedgerow not surviving another century.
It has been claimed that almost every hedge that existed in 1870 was still there in 1950. This contrasts with our local picture as we have estimated that around 32% were lost in Warsop in a similar period. However this figure may be overestimated, as some of the boundaries marked on old maps may not have been hedgerows. Only a third of our loss was due to agricultural practices with 25% due to forestry, 16% to housing and 15% to coal mining.
Research has revealed that between 1984 and 1990 hedgerow length in England had declined by 20%. Almost half of the loss was a result of a lack of management. These figures match Warsop’s data for hedgerow loss in that period. Between 1947 and 1985 the East Midlands lost an estimated 16,000 miles of hedgerow.
Latest research suggests that nationally the length of hedgerow is now stable but there has been a 7% decline in the number of classic shrubby hedgerows and a 9% increase in the number of overgrown hedgerows that are developing into a line of trees .
Labour was cheap and plentiful when enclosure hedges were planted and first maintained. The introduction of mechanisation into farming has had a major impact on hedgerows and their management. Ploughing with steam-powered traction engines was introduced in the late 1800s and the first petrol fueled tractors became available in the 1920s. Since then increasingly larger machinery has been introduced, requiring larger turning circles and wider gateways. The larger a field the more efficiently they could operate. The presence of a hedge may reduce crop yields on its northern side. Spraying and ploughing close to the field edge have also degraded hedgerow habitats.
Thirty years ago farmers were paid to remove hedges in order increase productivity but since then lower levels of subsidy have become available for reinstating lost hedges with the aim of increasing biodiversity. Between 1990 and 1993, the removal of hedgerows more than halved, and the rate of planting exceeded the rate of removal. As a result of hedgerow incentive schemes, many farmers began work to restore and manage hedgerows and other boundary features. Unfortunately, during this period there was a decrease in hedgerow length, partly due to a lack of management, resulting in hedges being reclassified as lines of trees or gappy shrubs. These relict hedgerows, although registered as lost in the survey, are still of value to wildlife.
Having described the decline of many hedges in the previous section it is now time to look at some of the new ones that have been planted in recent years. Several miles of hedgerow have been planted, mainly due to the restoration of pit tips and colliery sites. Other examples of new hedges include the hedgerow surrounding the Doorstep Green at Church Warsop and restoration of the hedge along the edge of the Carrs Local Nature Reserve carried out by students from Meden School and by Warsop Footpaths & Countryside Group. Whenever new hedgerows are planted plans need to be made for their long-term maintenance otherwise they will deteriorate into a line of scrub rather than an elegant boundary.
Less obvious planting occurs when gaps are filled in hedgerows and we are fortunate that some of our local farmers take the trouble to do this.
This may be taking a Midlands perspective. In other areas of the country stone walls, fells or open moorland may be the style preferred by most folk. However in parts of the Midlands many of our current hedgerows were planted between 1750 and 1850 following the Enclosure Acts when the large open field systems created in Medieval times were divided between landowners. Some other hedges are over a thousand years old and are older than many of our historic buildings that are valued by the community. The pattern of hedgerows tells the story of the countryside and farming traditions of an area.
Practical Uses of Hedgerows
Hedgerows may divide fields, confine livestock, shield eyesores, protect from the weather, mark boundaries, deter intruders, keep out predators, reduce wind erosion, cut down the amount of pollution that reaches watercourses and reduce the risk of flooding by regulating the flow of rainwater.
Hedges have traditionally been used as a source of firewood although during the cold period in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries penalties for hedge-stealing included whipping or stocks. Nowadays the use of firewood from hedgerows could play a role in reducing the rate of climate change. Hedges contribute to carbon storage, each kilometre of new hedgerow may store between 600 and 800 kg of CO2 each year.
The RSPB suggest that hedges may support up to 80% of our woodland birds, 50% of our mammals and 30% of our butterflies. They provide food for insects, which in turn provide food for other species. Hedgerow fruits are also a food source for birds and mammals. They are important breeding sites, providing cover for nesting birds and shelter from the weather. Bats and owls can roost in mature trees within hedgerows and bats use hedgerows to navigate and to feed. Hedges provide wildlife corridors between habitats for many species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians. They are particularly important for flying insects like butterflies which need warm sheltered conditions to be able to gain the heat necessary to fly. The ditches and banks associated with hedgerows provide habitat for frogs, toads, newts and reptiles.
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