Guelder-rose berries and ash tree, Locks Park, 8 Oct 09 reduced

Guelder-rose berries and ash tree

It’s Devon Hedge Week! What a perfect week it’s been to celebrate our amazing hedges…and the breathtaking autumn colours.

Last weekend we held our own event at the farm on hedge management, hedgerow trees and dormice – staring Dora, of course!

Interestingly most people when asked about hedge management would say without hesitation ‘Laying is good. Flailing is bad.’ This is not strictly true. Yes I do agree there’s still a lot of poor hedge cutting practice about, but flail mowing itself is not a bad thing. In fact hedge cutting is positively beneficial in most cases, and the flail is the best means available in the majority of circumstances.

Here you see Robbie our contractor flail cutting a hedge we laid two years ago, taking care not to damage the ash hedgerow tree.

Our contractor is flail cutting a hedge we laid two years ago and is taking care not to damage the ash hedgerow tree

You see cutting promotes thick, dense cover necessary for many of our smaller breeding birds (warbler, finch, sparrow, dunnock) and dormice. Interestingly it is along the knotty growth of the fail-line that you’ll find most bird and dormice nests.  Cutting also prolongs the period before a hedge needs to be rejuvenated by laying or coppicing. Laying is costly and time consuming so it’s important that management should try to keep the hedge in good condition for as long as possible before laying is necessary again.

young wych elm tree and hedge fail

young wych elm tree and hedge fail

Back to flail mowing, the main issues here are, of course, that hedges are either cut too often, or too short and thin. Hedgelink has recently produced an excellent leaflet (click on link for pdf) which takes one through the management cycle and the management options for each of stage of the hedge.

‘We encourage cutting on a 2 or preferably 3 or more year cycle, raising the cutting height a few inches each time, and staggering cutting between years.  There are times, though when cutting annually is necessary, for example to maintain road visibility, or desirable for the hedge base flora – the magnificent displays of primroses, bluebells and other spring flowers along many Devon hedge banks are dependent on frequent, close, cutting.  Cutting two or three year old growth can make a hedge look unsightly for a while, but it’s remarkable how quickly they recover, and as far as we know, no lasting damage is done to plant survival or hedge structure (research is underway to test this).’

Of course if you are managing your hedges mainly for wood, cutting would be counter productive as you’d want the growth to ensure a good wood harvest; but if possible aim at having as many hedges you can at different stages in their cycle.

So don’t dispair when you see fail mowed hedgerows – it’s the autumn-clean for next year’s wildlife!

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...and just perfect for us!

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