Our orchard is surrounded by traditional Cornish Hedges. As the entire land used to be covered with brambles, hogweed & ivy, most of the hedges ended up being completely covered by these hardy plants so we are spending time clearing the cornish walls. I have been researching how is best to look after our hedges and found some very interesting information on http://www.cornishhedges.co.uk (see below). It explains that the bad management of Cornish Hedges throughout Cornwall has led to them becoming overcome with tougher plants & due to this the natural wildflowers that were so abundant on the hedges have declined and along with them a huge number of the insects, pollinators & wildlife. The following plants:- ragwort, dock, hogweed, brambles, ivy, winter heliotrope, variegated deadnettle, three-cornered leek, nettles, montbretia, periwinkle and Japanese knotweed need to be removed & traditional wildflowers & trees replanted & seeded and the hedges should only be cleared in winter months using hand blades / cutting tools. Further instructions further down. We intend to do this as much as possible with our hedges surrounding the orchard & encourage others to do the same. We also want to plant trees like willow on some of the hedges to create a wind buffer for our trees.
WHAT IS A CORNISH HEDGE
A ‘Cornish hedge’ is a double-layered stone wall whose cavity and fissures are filled with earth. The stones involved are usually granite boulders and/or wedges of slate.
Frequently, these are topped with trees, shrubs and other plants which sometimes, but not always, form hedgerows.
Cornish hedges have defined our landscape for centuries and today provide a distinct local identity quite different from other areas of the country where hedgerows are more common. In Cornwall there are still about 30,000 miles of hedges which constitute our largest semi-natural wildlife resource and our most prominent landscape feature. Calculations taking width & height into account shows that the gross area of Cornwall’s hedges for wildlife would be about 50,000 acres. The sum total of Cornwalls recognised and protected nature reserves is about 9,000 acres, only one-fifth of the area of the county’s hedges. Our hedges, once so rich in a vast diversity of life, have so much potential for wildlife revival. In 1971, nearly two hundred flowering species were counted in just one mile of an ordinary roadside hedge. An estimated ten thousand species of insects can be supported by the floral and habitat diversity in Cornwall’s hedges. This brings mammals, birds and reptiles to forage and to hide their homes and nests in the greenery and stony crevices.
The Cornish hedge as wildlife habitat is remarkable because of its structure, the shape of the land, the mixed geology and the climate. The stone construction with variable earth infilling supports life in accordance with the hedge’s type and situation, and with the different parts of the same hedge. It provides everything necessary to the complete cycle of that life – earth, stone, crevices damp and dry, sun-basking places, shelter and a huge variety of plants from microscopic fungi to forest trees; giving pollen, nectar, seed, salads, leaf-litter, tree bark, cover, shade, nest sites, songbird and predator perches – a comprehensive list of amenities for many kinds of living things. Added to this variation of species and habitat is the mild maritime climate, which favours activity all the year round. Flowers bloom and seeds germinate at Christmas, bats wake to hunt midges along the hedge on mild winter evenings, and mosses can be green and growing in July.
One hedge can play host to gorse, daffodils, primroses, vetch, foxgloves, heather, white stitchwort, bluebells, red campion, scabious, betony, yarrow and sea campion among its British components, and, among the aliens, to Petasites fragrans and Centranthus ruber from the Mediterranean; Mexican fleabane and South American Fuchsia magellanica; South African Osteospermum, Crocosmia and Hottentot fig; Libertia grandiflora from New Zealand, the Echium wildpretii from Canaries & the Gladiolus communis subsp byzantinus, a Mediterranean native known to English gardeners since the 16th century as corn flag, and to the Cornish as whistling Jack. When seed is allowed to ripen and fall, this rich succession is renewed naturally every year.
MANAGING A CORNISH HEDGE
Historically this work was done by the roadman or the farm worker with his sharp-edged hand tools, the sickle (hook), bill-hook and slasher. In the mid-20th century, the tractor-mounted reciprocating scythe (finger-bar cutter) took over, and although less discriminating it still did an excellent job. It could not pass too near the hedge stones for fear of damaging the blade, so safely left invertebrate life in the herbaceous growth. Like the old tools, it severed the stems cleanly with a single cut, allowing living things to escape, and minimising damage from subsequent die-back or disease. High hedge-top trees were lopped or selectively coppiced by hand in winter, the Council’s workmen using a converted open-topped double-decker bus as a combined work platform and brushwood cart. The only trimming carried out in summer was by the roadman’s hand-hook on blind corners and in the ditches where necessary to keep culverts open. He would also knock off
long bramble whips or broken vegetation sticking out in the roadway. He took a craftsman’s pleasure in his work and was often to be seen carefully avoiding resident wildlife, and artistically working around a fine fern specimen or some pretty flowers, while discouraging coarser weeds from growing out into the road. When he did his main hedge trimming in winter, his method was to cut out the rough, woody growth from the hedge-bank’s face, leaving the herbaceous and grassy
growth unharmed. Here and there he would prune or partially coppice the hedge-top bushes if necessary to prevent wind-rock or to rejuvenate growth, keeping their natural-looking outline. These methods, while making the roads safe, preserved the diversity and enhanced the quality of the hedge-side flora and its animal life. Cutting in winter with a clean blade did not convert the trimmings into green manure, or destroy life before it could reproduce.
The old practice of casting up – every few years returning the soil and plant debris that has gradually washed down to the foot of the hedge, by digging it out with a Cornish shovel and throwing it up on to the top of the hedge-bank – not only helped to hold the stones in place, but returned fallen seed to the hedge-top to renew the cycle of downward-scattering and slow descent.
Meanwhile, every year’s uninterrupted seeding peppered the hedge-face in autumn with a fresh supply, and every winter’s trim with sharp tools maintained the open conditions required for germination, keeping the low level of fertility that most wild flowers demand. Whereas the burst of foxgloves in a fresh woodland clearing, or of fumitory in a ploughed field, diminishes as other growth overtakes it, in the traditionally-managed Cornish hedge the conditions for germination
and growth remain constant from year to year. Hence the extraordinary perpetual regeneration of its flora, including species that elsewhere are known to be ephemeral and rely on soil-stirring.
That fresh burst of foxgloves has been repeated annually on the hedge for hundreds of years since the original woodland was cleared and the hedge built with its soil. There is no reason why it should not continue as long as the hedge stands (and a Cornish hedge can stand for thousands of years) if allowed to cast its seed, and shrubby growth on the hedge-face is removed in winter with a clean-cutting blade. Unfortunately there are too few hedges in Cornwall where these conditions have been maintained. In most hedges today, the species dependent on seeding are in trouble, and for many of them the last of their dormant seed has gone. These hedges have repeatedly been flailed before the plants could ripen seed and replace their dormant stocks. Vetches, the foodplants for many moths and butterflies, are pre-eminent among the losses. Where the trimming programme is improved, easily-seeding species tolerating a richer soil, such as red campion, can make an explosive recovery; others, less robust, do not reappear.
Casting up was one of the roadman’s duties done after the winter hedge trimming, along with cleaning out the ditches. In
modern mechanised removal of earth from the foot of the roadside hedges, it is scooped up in a tractor bucket and taken for dumping elsewhere. The fallen seed and the replacement soil for the hedge’s structure are no longer returned to the hedge-top. Hogweed, brambles and nettles growing from flail-enriched soil at base of hedge.
Before the flail arrived in this area in 1972, self-regulating heath flowers grew close to hedge stones, giving a mosaic of colour while presenting no hazard to road users. Hogweed used almost always to grow on top of the hedge, kept in check by competition from the shrubby growth and looking very handsome against the sky. Now it grows at the bottom, overwhelming and shading out the finer hedge-bank flowers. Now that the mis-use of the flail has resulted in loss of normal seeding from the hedge-face, and has brought an invasion of rampant species along the foot of so many hedges, casting up could be a problem; whether returned to the hedge-top or carted away, the hedge-foot soil is now too often a source of re-infestation rather than regeneration. As tends to happen, abandoning the old ways has caused seemingly irreparable mischief. The tough roots of these mainly alien species have to be kept out of the stonework, so they must not be placed on top in shovelfuls of earth as casting up. This ban includes such weeds as winter heliotrope, variegated deadnettle, three-cornered leek, nettles, montbretia, periwinkle and Japanese knotweed. The remedy is repeatedly to cut them during their growth period, until they die out. As the summer flailing has sadly proved, trimming in the growing period will soon kill any plant; so although normally taboo, it is the best way to eliminate unwelcome species. Starting early in the spring, as the weeds begin to grow, has the most severe effect on them, and avoids the risk of injuring wildlife which may otherwise later on be using the plants for nesting shelter. This early selective removal, repeated as soon as the plants try to regrow, is essential, as once these weeds are allowed to make some leafy growth they quickly re-invigorate their roots. Prevent this and even the toughest give up, often quite suddenly, though with the worst ones it might take up to five years or so really to get the better of them. (Japanese knotweed, with its deep
storage roots, may yet attempt to reappear after this, so cutting down, or preferably hand-pulling, the young stems needs to continue as long as it does so.) Original native species (which must not be cut when the weeds are removed) then have a
chance to re-assert themselves. Once the aliens are eliminated, casting up can be re-established.
The flail was introduced and first used on Cornish roadside hedges in the early 1970s. As noted at the time: ‘The devastation was appalling. As it passed, the glory of summer flowers dancing with harmless insects vanished, leaving on the hedge only a hideous shorn, messy stubble among the scarred and battered stones of the hedge’s surface. The road was carpeted with
shredded leaves, stems and flower-heads, crushed snails, beetles and bees, the shattered wings and soft bodies of thousands of moths and butterflies, and every few yards pieces of smashed voles, shrews, slow-worms and toads.’
Deeply-concerned people were forced to watch helplessly while, because of the special nature of the Cornish hedge, irreversible damage was being done. The hedges’ populations of insects and flowering plants immediately crashed, the more rare or vulnerable species being wiped out in two or three seasons’ flailing. The more resistant declined over the next five years, most to the brink of disappearance, and more than half of the plant species have not been seen in those hedges since. Nor have most of the insects and birds. Only the tough plants like brambles, matted scrub and ivy, with heavy weeds at base, and the most common insect or animal species, able to reproduce their cycle away from the hedges, managed to survive.
HOW A CORNISH HEDGE WORKS
The natural system of the Cornish hedge relies on maintaining a capillary action, and rests on the fact that the earth core never dries right out. It acts like a slightly damp sponge to draw up and absorb rainfall, while the outer coat of rocks and plant matter quickly drains and dries.
Moisture suction and the entwined growth of healthy roots help to hold the stones and earth of the well-built hedge strongly in place. Even in the longest drought of summer the earth core still draws up rising damp from the subsoil and remains cool beneath the green seasonal growth. In the wettest winter the tightly rooted stone cladding throws off the rainfall sufficiently to avoid excessive wetness of the core and water-logging of the plant growth, which could otherwise result in rock-fall. This never-too-wet, never-too-dry regulation of the core works best in the properly built hedge with the core resting on the subsoil and having a clay or shale content, as these are cooling and help to induce condensation. Correct laying of stone and proper batter (inwardly curving profile) also direct and conserve moisture absorption. The low fertility of the core and the
tightness of the stones resist the establishment of rank weeds which would otherwise destroy the integrity of the hedge-bank and reduce the biodiversity. The hedge’s natural seasonal covering of plant growth also plays a vital part in maintaining the capillary system.
If vegetation is removed from the hedge during the eight months of March to October, when the Cornish sun is hot and rainfall might be low, the insulation, shade and dew-catching provided by the greenery is lost. The amount of moisture rising from below, nearly always less at this time of year, may not be able to compensate. The core of the hedge then dries out entirely and acts, as any dust-dry substance does, by repelling water; dampness no longer rises from below. Rainfall is prevented from percolating in, and merely water-logs the surface earth around the stones, so, wherever the flails have loosened them or the hedge has lost its batter and developed a bulge, they fall away from the
dry core under their own weight.
Established plants die, the desiccated soil slides out from between the stones and the rain washes it away like quicksilver, taking with it the hedge’s limited stock of dormant seed and the material in which it should have germinated. This insidious loss is added to the direct loss of seeding species by trimming before they ripen, or by ripe seed and young plants rotting under the fermenting mowings. The logical conclusion of continued summer flailing is the final death and disintegration of the hedge into a pile of stones with ivy and a few tough weeds growing through it.
Miles of verge are overtaken by rampant introduced weeds; Japanese knotweed, winter heliotrope, three-cornered leek, dumped by gardeners and then, like the ivy, disastrously helped to spread as a result of flailing. Where these aliens are not yet in evidence, brambles, bracken, nettles, hogweed and false oat-grass have largely overwhelmed the original flora.
Precious heathy hedges with their small slow-growing species have suffered most. The more tolerant woodland edge, where the tree-shaded hedge is slower to dehydrate, has plants that seed more readily and grow quickly, so they can endure a little more competition and recover more easily if flailing ceases. Even here the hedges can be seriously deranged. This degradation of habitat, along with the directly destructive action of the flail, is responsible for the continuing dearth of wildlife. To see two or three butterflies or birds in half a mile of hedge can give no idea of the abundance that the hedge should be supporting. This pathetic number is now typical even in sunny lanes where in high summer, until the introduction of flailing, a cyclist would dismount and walk to avoid harming the multi-species swarms of hedge butterflies that, drunk with nectar, fluttered and basked all over the sun-heated tarmac; and where every few yards of hedge revealed a busily foraging bird.
LOSS OF BIRDS AND INSECTS
The scarcity of butterflies and birds along the roads is not, as now sometimes thought, merely a symptom of the general decline in the countryside. The roadside numbers pre-1970, under the old trimming regime, were already far greater than the numbers in the internal farm hedges. Most of these hedges were either grazed by livestock, trimmed at corn-harvest time, or left untrimmed and overgrown, so that few boasted the floral abundance and diversity of the road side
of the hedge which was carefully tended by the old successful council policy.
TRIMMING TO AID WILDLIFE
Using the reciprocating scythe or finger-bar cutter in January or February (only on wet land it may have to be at any time after leaf-fall) when much of the vegetation should already have died back, lessens the problem of disposal of the cut material which is a common objection to this type of hedge-trimmer. It also slowly reduces fertility so in time there is less luxuriant growth and so less material to cut and disperse. To begin with, big flail-induced mats of woody growth such as gorse and blackthorn on the sides of the hedge-bank may need to be selectively cut out, back to the stone facing. The general trim should leave at least 8 inches (20 cm) of growth on the hedge. This leaves intact grass-tussocks and the large leaves of plants such as foxglove. Much of the cut material remains on the hedge. Any that falls may be left to lie, unless causing an obstruction to road traffic or farm operations, when it may be thrown back on to the hedge, or if abundant picked up and piled nearby as a habitat resource. Leaving a wildlife margin around the field avoids any problem from the fallen trimmings. By the time this winter trimming is done, the growth has withered and dried sufficiently that it has little harmful smothering effect when cut and left on the hedge or margin. Nor does it over-enrich the soil as the highly nutritional content of green summer trimming does, so it can safely be left on the hedge to break down naturally.
Importantly, it helps to protect the hedge and its sleeping inhabitants from cold winds, frost or snow. From its debris emerge unscathed the insects and other invertebrates that have overwintered in its stems, including butterflies that hibernate either as caterpillars or pupae. Left where it falls, it gradually disappears, meanwhile supporting many more species in it as it decays. By early summer little of this cut material, except where it has been piled up in quantity, will be in evidence,
hidden by the fresh growth. This method mimics nature’s own method of disposal, returning the right stuff to the soil, at the right time.
Hedges showing heavy infestation with rank weeds such as ragwort, dock or hogweed, might be a special case for wildlife enthusiasts prepared to care for their hedges by hand, and who can be relied on not to disturb nesting birds or destroy plants hosting invertebrate colonies. By persistently cutting out these weeds as they run up to flower and carting them away, they are prevented from reproducing, their roots are exhausted, and the soil fertility falls. Work should start in spring as soon as the weeds begin to grow, and they should be removed selectively, leaving other herbaceous growth unharmed. In a few seasons they will be reduced to more normal proportions, and the gentler native species will have a chance to reestablish.
Similarly, while bracken is a natural member of heathland hedges, over-infestation can be discouraged by skimming the ‘crooks’ off the tops of the young growth before the fronds open fully. Even the arch-fiend Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) eventually succumbs to this method if the soft young stems are repeatedly cut off before their leaves open, and never allowed to grow beyond this stage. The trouble is that when it gives up it does so quite suddenly, usually in about the third year of this treatment, so people are tempted to slacken off, allowing it to grow again. Keep whipping off every last, weakest growth, until it appears as dead as a doornail – and then watch the space with an eagle eye.
VALUE OF HEDGES UNREALISED
Another difficulty in conveying the value of Cornish hedges as permanent wildlife habitat is that few naturalists seem to have taken them seriously into consideration. Instead it needs to be emphasised that common plants, green slime and slugs are wildlife, and so are soil bacteria and other microscopic organisms. Look after the ordinary, unglamorous things at the bottom of the food chain, and the picture-postcard ones will, on the whole, look after themselves. Our most important wildlife of all is the hidden nation of creepy-crawlies inhabiting the common wild plants and the natural processes of decay. These, the less mobile or adaptable species, unable to withstand the big hoovers’ greedy gathering or pointless ‘tidying up’, are the ones that have to be cherished. On their abundance depends the survival of all the higher forms of life.
The easiest place to begin protecting viable quantities of them is in the hedges and verges. It is in exterminating so many of the common species here that the flail has had its appalling effect, and at the same time been overlooked by people whose eyes are fastened on the otters and the red kites.
Even when they do eventually notice that buttercups, hedge-sparrows and moths are getting scarce, they find themselves without much notion as to the cause. If they knew what really happens when a flail-mower or strimmer goes to work, they would be out in the streets campaigning for a ban on their manufacture.
Added to the extra wildlife amenities of its construction (those ‘rocky crevices’ and ‘dry heathy’ tops) as compared with the ordinary hedgerow, a Cornish hedge triples the area of ground its footprint covers. Taking the usual estimate of 30,000 miles of hedges in Cornwall, and reckoning the typical hedge at 4 – 5 feet high, 2′ 6″ wide at the top, and with at least a 1 foot strip of uncultivated ground at its feet, the gross area of Cornwall’s hedges for wildlife would be about 50,000 acres. After man’s various activities, most of Cornwall’s terrestrial wildlife provision is at best substituted mimic-habitat or semi-wilderness reversion. These areas would typically contain fewer species than the (pre-flail) hedges alongside, having been impoverished to some extent by periods of cultivation, while the hedge continued to support more of the pre-cultivation species.
The value of the hedges can be set in clear comparison to the county’s recognised and protected nature reserves, the sum total of which, at about 9,000 acres, is only one-fifth of the area of the county’s hedges, once so rich in a vast diversity of life, and still with so much potential for wildlife revival.
HEDGE-BREEDING BUTTERFLIES WIPED OUT BY FLAIL
A good example is the grayling butterfly, now usually believed to be almost exclusively a
creature of heathland or clifftop, whereas anyone who walked or cycled the Cornish countryside
before the days of the flail knows that graylings were commonly seen along many a sunny lane,
happily using the hedge grasses as their breeding-ground and the hedge stones or the surface of
the road for their basking. Their numbers were comparable to those of that other avid basker, the
wall brown; both were abundant in this situation, as were the hedge brown, meadow brown,
ringlet, small heath, small skipper and small copper. Less common butterflies regularly breeding in
Cornish hedges and often seen there before that time included the silver-studded blue, the heath
fritillary, the marsh fritillary and the wood white. By the 1960s more of such species as these were
living in our hedges than in the special habitats, and it was the unrecorded bulk of their
populations that was lost when the flail was introduced.
If the records were to be taken as an indication, the wood white never existed west of
Trencrom, but in fact this unmistakeable little white butterfly with its slightly rounded wings and
weakly wavering flight was present along many of West Penwith’s more sheltered lanes, breeding
mainly on the abundant meadow vetchling. In the woods, where it would normally be looked for
by those intent on recording, it flies more boldly than when out in the open, so its absence may
more easily be discerned. In those parts of Cornwall with less woodland, it was more usual on the
roadside hedges. The wood white’s disappearance in the early 1970s, along with so many others,
was due to the vetches and their larval life having been immediate victims of the flailing. Similarly
the heath fritillary, using common hedge plants in the absence of coppice, disappeared from the
roadsides at the same time. These butterflies did not go elsewhere; they were killed, almost all in
the initial massacre, by the use of a crassly unsuitable machine.
Most species can be closely examined and easily identified when in a good Cornish hedge,
which shows its wares in an orderly display. In the roadside hedge, the mobile creatures can be
followed effortlessly along the smooth tarmac without troubling them, until they pause to feed or
rest, or come to the end of their territory and turn back. Their whole interest is concentrated on
the spot, so rich in supplies of all they seek, and there are only three directions in which they can
flee. Most are reluctant to run or fly up, over and away, as this brings them into the wind that is
usually blowing. On the roadside they are actually less inclined to flee. Like farm livestock kept in
roadside fields they are little disturbed by the traffic, and will allow a quiet passer-by so close as
almost to touch them. It is a tragic irony that these peaceful creatures readily and widely available
to the eye were not appreciated as a study resource, and were those soonest swept away by the
arrival of the flail.
REHABILITATION OF FLAIL–DAMAGED HEDGES
Among the reckless eliminations of old-established ecosystems, loss by flail is surely the
least recognised and least justified; yet it might be one of the more economically and usefully
remedied. Many flail machines are elderly and when inevitably scrapped can be replaced by the
modern finger-bar cutters now available. Habitat restoration, rather than creation, makes sense.
Habitat creation often fails in its precise aim if it seeks to establish species which may never have
existed there, or which, for reasons unresearched, require an ancient habitat. Added to the
problems of over-exposure to the public, and the non-sustainability of some species in small
isolated areas subject to interference and predation, this results in ‘wildlife management’ which too
often means wild flower gardening and a kind of zoo-keeping. Without regular weeding, tidying,
seeding and repeated re-introduction, the site is not viable. There is nothing against this as a
helpful hobby or a conservation stop-gap or nucleus for a wider project, but it is neither
permanent nor sufficient without the support of general countryside rehabilitation. In restoring an
extensive but badly degraded habitat such as the flailed hedges, a certain amount of gardening
might be required for a while to reinstate floral balance; once this is achieved re-introduction should be
successfully self-regenerating. It should also be less necessary, as during the restoration many species may
revive. Much can be gained in the less damaged hedges simply by using the right machine or tool for the job, at
the right time of year, and allowing nature to heal.
The object of all assisted habitat creation or restoration must be that once achieved, normal countryside management, or in many cases actually leaving well alone, will perpetuate it, without needing wildlife gardening. A Cornish hedge that
requires at first selective removal of ivy, flail-matted woody species and rampant weeds, reduction of fertility, and possibly some help in reintroducing its original species, should afterwards continue to improve and sustain its populations with
only the normal help of a winter trim by blade cutter along alternate sides of the hedge-bank in different years.
Luckily there are signs that environmentalists are now taking a real interest in hedges, and
once understanding what has happened in the past forty years, some worthwhile work will surely
emerge. With the present-day emphasis on biodiversity, there is a need for studying the different
types of habitat harmonising in the Cornish hedge when it is as it should be, and for promoting
species restoration. Of the native or commonly naturalised plants recorded for Cornwall, around
100 woody and 600 flowering herbaceous species (not counting sub-species or hybrids), 70 grasses,
60 rushes and sedges, 300 common mosses, 50 liverworts, 100 lichens, and 30 ferns will grow,
many in great profusion, in our hedges. There is no estimating the fungi, and nobody knows how
many of the less common species of flowerless plants, particularly lichens, might also be or have
been there. A mile of Cornish hedge would typically contain between two and three hundred
easily-visible plant species. In most hedges today, the flail will have eliminated at least half of these
species and about three-quarters of the quantity of most of those remaining, and replaced them
with spreading areas of a few invasive weeds, particularly ivy. The invertebrate life supported by
the original diversity would have amounted to more than ten thousand species all told. Roadside
hedges that pre-flail hosted several hundred moth species per mile can now be down to below half
a dozen, and less easily-counted insects and other invertebrates have suffered as badly. Without a
comprehensive captive breeding programme it may already be too late for many of our moths and
butterflies to return to the hedges; and even with this help, re-location of individuals, despite a
habitat’s previously proven suitability, is notoriously liable to fail. All the more urgent is the need
to save those still precariously remaining there.
We have before us the sad but rewarding task of restoring Cornwall’s ravaged hedges to
regain as far as possible their heritage of plant and animal life. If this requires far-seeing and
painstaking work, in part to be carried out by hand, it is the price we must pay for allowing past
mistakes. Much could be done by the redirection of available resources, and the intelligent use of
voluntary labour under properly qualified direction.
Rampant weeds and Ivy need to be removed, now-scarce wildflowers propagated. Some hopelessly infested and loosened hedges may need extensive repair by a craftsman hedger, re-using the existing materials after removing weed roots and ivy, and taking care to preserve the mossy or lichened face of the stones and place them with this face outward as before. Topping a rebuilt hedge with its original earth may re-activate some of its lost plant species. Lasting benefit from these remedial works could be achieved, and sooner,
by ceasing all use of the flail or rotary type of machine in trimming hedges and verges and returning to the clean-cutting blade. As long as the flail is used on Cornish hedges, the structural damage and the decline of vulnerable remaining species will continue.
REPAIR OF RETAINED HEDGES
Growth on the side of the hedge will be trimmed to leave not less than 300mm thickness. The side-spread of trees and bushes on the top of the hedge may be cut back to a distance of not less than 2m from the centre line of the hedge. The tree preservation officer of the local planning authority will be consulted as to the possible application of tree preservation orders before felling any trees. The stone structure of the hedge will be examined by a competent hedger (preferably qualified as a craftsman with the Guild of Cornish Hedgers) for stones which have moved from their proper place in the courses. In each instance the hedge will be taken down to the course below each displaced stone, and rebuilt as described below. Rabbit and other holes in the hedge will be filled and repaired in similar manner. Finally soil that has accumulated at the foot of the hedge will be “cast up”, ie dug out and placed on the top of the hedge by hand or machine so that the base of the hedge becomes level with the adjoining land; excepting that existing ditches will be reinstated to their proper dimensions as advised by the hedger. The hedge will be left with its base as wide as the hedge is high, and with the width of its top measuring half of the height of the hedge. Ditches will be reinstated to their proper dimensions.
Stone Hedges. Stone hedges will be repaired or restored to their original style using original or
Turf Hedges. Growth on the side of the hedge will be trimmed to leave 150-300mm thickness. The
side-spread of trees, bushes and other growth on the top of the hedge may be cut back to a distance
of not less than 2m from the centre line of the hedge.
Places in the hedge where the hedge structure has deteriorated with a reduction in
height will be rebuilt by digging out the affected part of the hedge and building up to correct
contours with turf laid in courses, filled behind with soil, as described below. Soil that has
accumulated at the foot of the hedge will be “cast up”, ie dug out and placed on the top of the hedge
by hand or machine so that the land becomes level to the base of the hedge. The hedge will be left
with its base as wide as the hedge is high, and with the width of its top measuring half of the height
of the hedge. Ditches will be reinstated to their proper dimensions.
REMOVAL AND REINSTATEMENT
Firstly all tree growths are severed at about 0.5m above ground level, removed from the
immediate vicinity of the hedge and disposed of. Conservation of wildlife requires that the soil from
demolished hedges is reused in the reinstated hedges.
Cornish Hedges. Working carefully from each side, all stones, including foundation stones below
ground level, are removed, sorted to be free of earth and plant material, and stored in the vicinity of
the hedge. Each course of stone will be stored separately in sequence.
Working carefully from each side, all earth and plant material are removed and stored,
separate from the stones, in the vicinity of the hedge. Store the inner earth core and all plant
Any infilling of depressions must be properly consolidated so as to provide a stable
foundation for the rebuilt hedge. The hedge is rebuilt to the Code of Good Practice for Cornish
Hedges, coursing the stones in exactly the original pattern and using the original materials in the
same courses, special care being taken where it rejoins the existing hedge, so that upon inspection
there is no interruption of the original pattern. Additional matching stone will be procured where
there is an inadequacy. A layer of rabbit-proof plastic-covered wire netting will be laid on the fill
across the hedge top under the top course of stone as recommended in the Code. The wire must not
protrude from the hedge face.
PLANTING ON THE HEDGEBANK.
Where a bushy-topped Cornish or turf hedge is required or being re-built, the hedgerow
bushes or trees on top will be replaced with species traditional to the locality. Where broad-leaved
trees are to be planted the width of the hedge is increased by 1 metre and the trees planted 5 – 10
metres apart in a single row. Stock will be sourced in Cornwall, well grown and not less than 0.5m
in height. Thorns will be planted 400mm apart in a single row along the centre line of the hedge
top then pruned to 200mm to improve drought-resistance and protected with rabbit guards. The
turf topping of the hedge will be laid upside down to help retain dampness while the plants settle.
The site is cleared and restored to its original profile, with surplus vegetative and woody
material being disposed of. Note that no seeding or planting of the hedge will be done, other than
The rebuilt section of hedge is fenced with sheep netting and two strands of plain wire, the
fence being erected 1m from the hedge, with the posts 2m apart, rejoining the hedge 2m distant
from the rebuilt section.
Information from http://www.cornishhedges.co.uk
© Sarah Carter 2007, including the photographs except where credited. Sources: All data and conclusions drawn are from the author’s original study and observation
(using standard textbooks for identification, and notebook and pencil) except where otherwise
Thanks to Colin French for taking time and trouble to extract hedge records from his database.
You are welcome to download these papers and photographs for your private use and study. If you use any of this
material in any other way, the copyright holder and the Cornish Hedges Library source must be acknowledged.