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A Reeeeeaaaallly Wide Hedge

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

Late in 2018 whilst walking and talking through our fields with our mate and tree guru, Pete Leeson from the Woodland Trust, we got talking about the benefits of wider hedges, since 2014 we have planted over 8km at Cannerheugh, doing this has been a big learning curve and given us the confidence to be braver and bolder with our planting.

Nothing looks more disheartening than strips of plastic spirals and bamboo on bare ground after you have spent hours planting tiny whips of trees, losing valuable grazing land, expensive fencing materials and plastic to protect from deer, rabbits and voles. It takes time and upkeep for these hedges to blossom but having seen at first hand the transformation that can happen in just three years we decided to crack on with our wide hedge.

The north facing eight acre field we had in mind spent most of the grazing season with an electric fence permanently down the middle of it which we could then subdivided smaller paddocks off for daily cattle moves. The hedge would provide shelter, browse, habitat and also act as a corridor for birds connecting two scrubby areas of the farm. In 2018 the ‘beast from the east’ had taught us just how crucial shelter is on the farm, the perishing wind combined with heavy snow, and the loses we endured are etched in our minds.

So with a scrap of paper over a coffee with Pete we planned the hedge, 176 meters long, 5 meters wide with a gate at each end, straight up the middle of a grass field, bonkers or what!? The plan was to have a normal hedge on each side with hawthorn, hornbeam, hazel, dog rose and willow, then a line of trees – bird cherry, aspen, rowan, crab apple, with the centre line being silver birch and oak.

With the trees being funded by the Woodland Trust, our job and expense was the fencing, and time taken to plant the hedge. It’s a funny feeling fencing off area of land that have been pasture for possibly hundreds of years to then change role and become a very diverse, ecologically rich habitat, I often wonder if the land could speak what would it being saying to us? Possibly ‘what the hell are you doing’ but I like to think it’s a bit more like ‘this is just what was needed’.

Planting began early January 2020, just before covid struck, one memory I have of that time was setting up a watering system in the very dry hot Spring for the thirsty young plants and our two daughters rigging up some silage sheet and creating there own water slide! We watered hard, lost a few but generally the take was very good.

Now is 2023 the hedge getting better and better, willow and crab apple are towering over us as we walk up the middle of it, getting browsed by the cattle every now and again on their grazing rotation. We have spent a couple of days in there, removing guards and replacing dead plants, this time is well spent and important, I think we have realised through trial and error with trees as with most things you get out what you put in.

We have shown many groups around the hedge, we’ve had the odd head shaker and sharp intake of breath but the majority of folk can see the huge benefits it brings, -from shelter, nutrition, biodiversity, connectivity but also other conversations around fruit, nuts, harvesting, chipping and carbon trading/off setting. These chats are what makes showing people around so rewarding, it’s exploring the possibilities and that’s what makes farming along side nature so exciting.

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Peter Brooke
Peter Brooke
27 sept. 2023

Have just read about your great work on your farm and the benefits you are gradually seeing. As an owl person, am very happy you now have all five visiting!

Keep it going! Emma and I live not too far away in Wensleydale so have some appreciation of the weather, but it is such a beautiful part of the country, with lots of wildlife support happening.

Best regards,

Peter and Emma Brooke .

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