England’s hedgerows run for hundreds of thousands of miles, but a lot have disappeared, due to modern farming methods. We have lost nearly all our wild nettles, clover and docks. Hedges were built to keep livestock safe in fields, but also capture carbon, which helps to reduce climate change. They can also protect wildlife from the wind, rain and sun – and many people use the fruits of the hedgerow to make blackberry jam, nettle soup and sloe gin.
Most of our hedgerows are hundreds of years old, a few are thousands of years old. Farmers like hedgerows, as they stop the soil being blown away by the wind. Many creatures love hedgerow including butterflies, dormice, newts, newts and rare caterpillars also love hedgerows. You’ll also find pretty woodland flora including hawthorn, dog rose, bramble, honeysuckle, bluebells and hazel.
- Hedgelink is a charity working to save our hedgerows. Also download Hedging, a practical handbook from The Conservation Volunteers that can teach you how to plant new hedges and restore neglected ones. Learn about the law, safety and tools. Or just sign up as a volunteer.
- A Natural History of the Hedgerow introduces you to a countryside bursting with blackberries, hazelnuts and sloes; home to oak and ash, field mice and butterflies. But as we dream of foraging for wayside nettles for soup, most are unaware how hedgerows have shaped our landscape and fellow species.
- Flowers to Spot is a beautiful little book to help readers identify 60 flowers in hedgerows, marshes and meadows, including cornflowers, poppies, honeysuckle and harebells. Organised by location, showing flowers you may also find in towns and by roadsides.
- The Hedgerow Apothecary is a guide to the wisdom of herbalists of the past. Discover how to make delicious preserves, healing balms, soothing toddies and cures for colds with nature’s jewels (rosehips, elderberries and mugwort).Author Christine Iverson runs courses on foraging and remedies from hedgerow finds in Sussex. Avoid herbs if you are pregnant/nursing or on medication, without permission from your doctor. Do not use these herbs near pets or children.
- Heavenly Hedgerows makes local preserves, from foraged fruits. Buying from companies that sustainably harvest hedgerow fruits, helps to create a demand, so developers won’t chop hedges down. The range includes plum, strawberry and a Sloe & Crap Apple Jelly.
An awful lot of England is slowly eroding, and an awful lot of it is the hedgerows. We’re reaching the point where a lot of the English countryside looks just like Iowa – just kind of open space. American writer Bill Bryson