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Hedgerows - the stitching in the patchwork quilt

Hedgerow and verge in August, with meadowsweet and willowherb Hedgerow and verge in August, with meadowsweet and willowherb Colin Adsley

Hedgerows must be the most taken-for-granted feature of the English countryside. Many of us simply flash by in cars or buses without really seeing them - unless a section is removed, then we notice the gap.

But for those who truly appreciate the countryside they are central to its appeal. Full of life and interest, they change with the seasons. They are mini worlds of biodiversity between the road or lane and the farmed field beyond. They present different characters to the world, from the 'officious', uniformly-trimmed hedge to the freedom-loving sprawls described by Wordsworth as 'little lines of sportive wood run wild'.

Some are protected by laws passed in 1997 as 'important' - mostly for their botanical or historical significance, though, alas, building development can override that protection.  Since 1945 many miles of hedgerow have been lost - to development, road-widening schemes or intensive arable farming reluctant to spare even a few square yards of land. The value added by hedgerows to the beauty of our country landscapes is still not really considered an aspect of their 'importance'.

Hedgerow in spring beauty, near Ashington

Hedgerow in spring beauty, near Ashington                                                                              Colin Adsley

Fortunately in Northumberland we have much to be grateful for. Along country roads and field boundaries many areas are rich in classic examples. Looking down from a hillside vantage point on pastoral valleys almost everywhere in the county, we see how the network patterning of fields adds interest and structure to the scene. In spring hawthorn and blackthorn cover hedges in a froth of blossom, as violets and primroses flower shyly among the celandines and anemones. In high summer they may be replaced by dog roses as the verges overflow with cow parsley, meadowsweet and rosebay willowherb. Later in the year is the time for blackberries, hazelnuts and red berries on the holly.

While they delight the eye of the country walker, hedgerows are a godsend to all sorts of small creatures. Dormice, bank voles and hedgehogs shelter or live in them throughout the year. Bees, butterflies and moths love them for the food they supply, while tits, wrens and robins raise their young in them.

Historians also value hedges for the clues they provide to patterns of human activity in past times, and many are indeed of ancient origin.

CPRE's view

CPRE believes that hedgerows are the vital stitching in the patchwork quilt of the English countryside. They lend beauty and character to the landscape and provide a wide range of benefits to wildlife and the wider environment. They also make a significant contribution to local distinctiveness and a sense of place. CPRE is committed to working to protect these important and iconic landscape features, and will take action to alert local authorities where a hedge is illegally removed for any reason. If you learn of a hedge under threat, let us know and we will contact the local authority to check the status of the threatened hedge and take action to protect it before it is seriously harmed.

Meanwhile, enjoy the hedges in your area which add so much to the pleasure of a country walk or cycle ride. Few towns and villages are without fine examples in their vicinity and there is so much to savour and appreciate in all of them.

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