Devon Hedge Week

Devon is a county with a wonderful diversity of landscapes – it has Dartmoor and Exmoor, undulating green fields, rocky coastlines, large areas of woodland… but the way you know you are really in Devon is by its hedges.

high on West Town Farm, overlooking green fields and hedges

Much of the county is inaccessible by public transport, and I can never forget my shock when first moving here three years ago, at just how long it took to get from point A to point B by car. The whole county seemed to be covered with mile after mile of meandering green tunnels – up and down hills, endless hairpin bends – high shady trees and hedges in various states of growth and maintenance – however beautiful in themselves, I felt impatient, exasperated .

And away from the wooded areas the country lanes were narrow, and claustrophobic, flanked by savagely-cut, high hedges impossible to see over the top.

Well, one cannot stay exasperated for ever, and I grew more patient – deciding that other species had needs as well as my own. I knew of the importance of hedges to wildlife, as habitat or as corridors, and I began to pick up a few snippets of other information. I wanted to know more.

The annual Devon Hedge Week has just taken place, so I took the opportunity to go along to the Halsannery Countryside Centre for a morning’s event with Tom Hynes from Northern Devon Coast and Countryside Service. Autumn leaves of vibrant reds, golds and yellows were strewn along the edges of the track as I approached the house. It was very good to breathe the fresh leafy earth-scented air.

Tom told us a little about the history of Devon hedges, and how they have evolved. I was amazed to learn that about 20% of them have been established as long as 800 years, and many more are very old indeed! A typical hedge is formed along earth banks, often supported by dry stone walling. Plants and trees establish themselves along the top of the banks, providing a wealth of resources for wildlife. Brambles and bushes lower down the banks are especially favoured by dormice.

a recently restored hedge alongside a busy road

We walked over the fields to look at hedges that had been restored at various times in recent years, one very recent and one awaiting work, and at each hedge Tom told us about methods of hedge management. I soon learned there was much more to all this than there first seemed , depending on fitness of purpose, geographical conditions and so on. So each hedge would be unique, depending on its history, current use, and importantly, its position in the landscape.

 close-up

Tom gave us a great demonstration of the traditional craft of hedge-laying (steeping), and at the end of the morning, I came away with a new appreciation of these hedges that cover so much of the county.

restored hedge on characteristic walled bank

Regarding the question of whether or not flailing is a good thing – have a look at Paula’s brilliant  post on the Locks Park Farm blog.

I still have many more questions, but on a visit to a friend’s farm today, I was able to recognise a well-laid hedge when I saw one, and its many benefits to humans and wildlife, and just how much these hedges hold together the fabric of the Devon landscape.

More info: www.devon.gov.uk/devon_hedges

About throughstones

I am primarily a visual artist, living on the North Devon coast, a beautiful semi-rural area in South West England. I am interested in full engagement with 'place' and the eternal movement of life - particularly as it relates to what we call 'the natural environment'.
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10 Responses to Devon Hedge Week

  1. flandrumhill says:

    How I love hedges. They frame the fields and make good neighbors. If I didn’t have such wide ones, there’d be nothing between me and mine! They act as a barrier to wind and snow in the winter and noise in the summer.

    I did some reading about them a while back and was in awe of the expertise required to both create and maintain certain types.

    So nice to see you back 🙂

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    • Lovely to hear from you, and looking forward to catching up with your Nova Scotia life…. sorry posts are erratic at the mo, and likely to remain so for a time – but I have not forgotten you. Still doing a lot of ‘connecting’ round here! It is giving me added pleasure in surveying our local hedges, now that i know what i am looking at 🙂

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  2. redstarcafe says:

    Welcome back, Linda. What an idyllic post and why am I not surprised to see a photographic analysis of hedge construction. I did not know that some of these hedges were so old or that their maintenance was such a science. And you have put an entirely new meaning to throughstones for me.

    “Inaccessible by public transit” applies here in Ontario as well. It takes a good hour or more to get out of the sprawling city to places where there is still farmland divided by trees and bushes. Now I need to take the less-travelled roads and see the bones of these places.

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    • That sounds pretty good to me! I would love to see some of Canada’s wide open spaces – I remember you sent me a great tourism link once, but can’t remember whereabouts the place was.

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  3. artistatexit0 says:

    I learned about throughstones in doing this bit of research about Kentucky stone walls! It appears my state is the epicenter of this craft in the U.S. Apparently, we are also in danger of losing our examples and there is an effort to teach this form to repair what is disappearing. The Dry Stone Conservancy of Kentucky has a nice site and blog of their repair efforts. Look for them at:
    http://www.drystone.org/ Enjoy! Al

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    • very nice site, and great to know tradional ‘sustainable’ crafts such as this are being encouraged – thanks for the link. Kentucky looks like a good place to live, and some of the buildings look just like many I saw whilst living up in Northumberland.

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  4. paula says:

    How lovely! You’re back!

    How did it all go? Did you enjoy it, grow from it, learn….Oh so many questions.

    Thanks too for linking to my post on hedges. There’s heaps more on there if you’re interested.

    Hopefully catch up over the weeks…though we’ve all become very lax at writing posts as we’ve become twitter-addicts!

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    • Lovely to be back in Devon. and home, thanks! Yes – lots of learning, growing, fun and hard work! I feel I will never, ever catch up with myself, since before setting off for Korea. (I have still not written up that adventure, nor sorted photos…). Looking forward to having a quiet browse through your lovely blog, when things quieten down a bit. As for now, the sun is shining, so I will grab the opportunity to walk out on the Burrows before getting my head down once again.

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  5. artistatexit0 says:

    I had no idea that these hedges were that old! In Kentucky we have a tradition of dry stone walling too and they can be seen in association with some of our horse farms. I wonder if these stone walls are an English transplanted craft? I’ll have to check that out. Thanks as always for your post.

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    • Thanks, and apologies again for the long hiatus. I am busier than ever before – so posts may be rather erratic for the next year or so!
      I love dry stone walls – here in UK, the traditional techniques vary from region to region, which for me is part of their appeal. In Devon the stones tend to be laid with their long sides placed vertically; whilst in Cornwall, the neighbouring county, they are laid in a sort of herringbone pattern. Up north, in Northumberland, they are laid in horizontal rows, and every third row or so, big slabs are positioned through the wall from side to side. These are called ‘throughstones’, which is where I got my avatar name from! Wd love to hear your findings about the Kentucky walls.

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