Conjure up a picture of the English countryside in your mind and chances are hedges will be a dominant feature. They've been part of our landscape since the Bronze Age and some traces of those ancient hedges still survive in Devon.
The history of hedges
As boundary markers, they've often been controversial as landowners planted them to signify ownership over once common land. However, as the most widespread semi-natural habitat in the UK, they are now a vital part of our landscape. A good quality, species-rich hedge can support a rich variety of plants and insects as well as nesting and hunting areas for birds and mammals. Much more detail on the importance of hedges can be found here.
Sadly, since 1945, agricultural practices have changed and we've lost many hedgerows whilst the quality of hedges has also declined.
So, some of us at Lance Trust have been taking part in our first hedgerow survey to see how the hedges of Long Ashton rate in terms of both the historical and ecological context.
Surveying hedgerows in Long Ashton
The first hedge we selected was in the allotment field by the Long Ashton Growers site when, with the landowner in attendance, Owen and Amanda got to work with tape measure and poles as outlined in the Great Hedgerow Survey for the People's Trust for Endangered Species.
Half an hour or so later and they'd got the data requested. Back home, this was fed into the computer and, excitingly, the results were both instant and encouraging. The hedge scored well for both biodiversity and structure. However, it lacks some species that would provide a good food resource for wildlife so we could fill in the gaps, perhaps, with some suitable species.
Ancient maps of Long Ashton hedges
Meantime, Pete had been looking at some old maps, including a really old one at the Bristol Records Office called The Map of the Manor of Long Ashton, dated 1765. It shows land holdings and tenancies on agricultural land in the parish. Although it is drawn by hand and not to scale, it is possible to identify quite a few field boundaries, tracks and building that are still in existence today, including the one Owen & Amanda surveyed.
You can see the line of the hedge surveyed to the right of the green area. It has a distinctive curve still easily visible today. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the hedge is 250 years old as it may have been replaced over time but the number of species indicates it may well predate the 18th century when many miles of hedgerows were planted mostly of single species.
Here’s the location of the hedge on a modern map:
We hope to do more hedgerow surveys this year so please get in contact if you'd like to be involved.