Hedging one’s bets can pay off in future

Derek Robeson'Conservation Consultant'SAC Consulting'Conservation Services
Derek Robeson'Conservation Consultant'SAC Consulting'Conservation Services
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The Scottish Agricultural College has organised a farm walk in the Borders next month.

The event will be hosted by Jamie Scott of Kirklands Estate at Furlongs Farm, Ancrum, on June 19 and anyone with an interest in farmland conservation is welcome to attend.

Hedgerow and parkland management, and grazing of wildflower-rich grasslands will be key topics discussed at the event. The aim is to share the experiences of one family and their attempt to manage the land for future generations to enjoy.

Mr Scott said: “Regular hedgerow maintenance is very important. If left unmanaged, hedgerows will continue to grow to form a line of trees.

“Sometimes hedges become gappy or leggy with little at the base. Where stock are kept, thick, bushy and well-managed ‘laid’ hedges provide shelter and wildlife habitat.

“Because hedges are so long-lived, they provide significant landscape value too. I’d like to encourage more people to lay their hedges.”

Furlongs plays host to the Scottish Hedge Laying Championships each October and it attracts professional hedge layers from all over the country.

Hedge laying used to be a fairly common practice in the Borders, particularly on the larger estates. It all but died out after the Second World War, but there has been a recent resurgence of interest in this traditional country craft. There are many different styles, each suited to the local landscape, farming system and the different hedgerow plants themselves.

At some stage in the life of the hedge, it will require cutting to maintain condition.

The flail head trimmer is the most common tool used for trimming hedges. This uses hanging blades which rotate rapidly. On thin stems it is very effective, but on thicker specimens it can lead to unsightly torn edges. Knife blade cutters are equally effective on light growth. On hedges that have not been cut regularly, a circular saw with up to five blades is often required, to reshape the entire hedge.

Regular tight trimming of hawthorn hedges, to the same height each year, can cause the hedge to become stressed, bottomless and gappy. A gradual decline in condition often follows. If the cutting regime is relaxed and the hedge allowed to grow incrementally, then stems are less likely to die out. As long as stems are actively growing, then the hedge can be laid, which in turn forms a continuous and sustainable thick and stockproof hedgerow.

Lack of management or neglect often results in hedges requiring to be coppiced with gaps filled in. Periodic hedge laying can offer a solution to this recurring problem.

Keep hedges thick and dense to provide shelter for livestock and habitat for wildlife. Cut only every two to three years in late winter, after the berries have been eaten by birds. Try not to cut too often or too tight.

When gapping up hedges or planting new ones, try to use native shrubs of local provenance. Hedges with lots of wildflowers and native grasses growing at the base provide the best habitat for insects and ground-nesting birds.

If room allows, try and incorporate hedgerow trees such as oak and ash or rowan and field maple. Sparsely-located individual trees often have a hugely significant landscape enhancement value, often far outweighing densely-packed woodland areas. Try to link new hedges to existing habitat such as watercourses, drystone dykes or ponds to form wildlife corridors. Consider establishing a regular hedge-laying management programme and take the long-term view.

Actively managing farmland habitats can be hugely rewarding.

Anyone wishing to attend should contact SAC at St Boswells on 01835 823322.