I’m still revelling in the sun and dry, so my walks have become happy, smiley affairs once more; it’s also perfect weather and the best time of year to enjoy our farm’s hedgerows. Among the just turning leaves you can find nests, berries and fruits of all sorts. The blackberries, unfortunately, have all but gone, moulded away in the wet, and those silly, greedy squirrels have gnawed and spat out every last one of our hazel nuts long, long before they were ripe; but there are still plenty left – crab apple, bullace, wild pear, and all those aforementioned bryony ropes, guelder-rose bracts, sloes, hips, haws and the shouting pink-orange of spindleberry – creating intensely vivid splashes of colour. Hopefully these will help feed flocks of redwings and fieldfares that pass through the farm on the way from cold northern climes to their southerly winter quarters. You could also find dormouse nests, if you’re lucky, and the remains of this year’s birds nests – blackbird, song thrush, chaffinch, wren – the list is endless.
Did you know there’s a rule of thumb that says that every woody plant in a 30 metre stretch of a hedgerow adds a century to its life? By that reckoning, some of our hedgerows are a staggering 1200 years old. This may well be true, since the great Devon historian Professor W G Hoskins estimated that a quarter of our hedgerows are over 800 years old. That’s older than many of our parish churches! And some hedges running off Dartmoor, a continuation of the old Bronze Age reeve system, must be around an extraordinary 4000 years old. Others will be original remnants of the wildwood that clothed the landscape before man carved out his fields.
Devon really is the place of hedgerows in a nation renowned across the world for them. We’ve got more than any other county, and not only are a great many of them ancient but most, like those of our farm, support a remarkable variety of different trees, shrubs and, of course, abundant wildlife. Each part of the county has its own distinctive hedgerows, ranging from the ancient lines of ash and maple enclosing sunken lanes in the Blackdowns to the tall beech hedges of Exmoor. But it is perhaps the banks upon which the woody plants grow that show the most variety. In our area around Hatherleigh these are turf-faced, low key affairs in comparison with the granite boulders, often huge, than underlie Dartmoor’s hedges or the beautiful herring bones patterns of Morte Point on the north coast.
Here are just a few photos to show you the richness of our Locks Park hedges. If you’re interested to find out more follow this link to Devon Hedges where you will find information on the Devon Hedge Group which celebrates this heritage by organising Devon Hedge Week. This year the week runs between 25 October and 2 November, and its theme is the diversity of hedgerows.