Along the Hedgerow

L Flower

Following the dry, warm, sunny weeks, the earth is dry and cracking beneath our feet. However, the hedgerow we walk along is green and colourful with blossoms of many kinds.

Let’s look more closely. Already the rapidly growing shoots brush our legs as we pass. The white Hawthorn blossom clothes the green, as if dressed for a wedding: magnificent this year. The smell lingers in the air, sweet and of almonds – but some people catch an unpleasant ‘under-whiff’. For many cultures, the hawthorn is symbolic - my grandmother would not allow it to be brought into the house as it was considered unlucky!

For farmers, it provides the perfect stock-proof fence. For wildlife, it's ‘something for all seasons’ - the flowers are for insects, thick covering for nesting birds, corridors for small mammals and bats, and in autumn the fruits are for birds. As the flowers fade, we can see the young fruit (haws) developing already.

As we stand still, a robin hops onto the pavement pecking for tit-bits, then back into the hedge, and does the same again. We guess there is a nest. We walk on and a blackbird makes us jump with a whisk of feathers as she flies out; as we pass, glancing quickly and quietly, sure enough, we see her nest, a clump of grasses stuck with mud and mosses. Blue tits and great tits are picking flies from the blossom.

The hedge follows the many bends of the lane – or does it? Actually the lane follows the hedge. The many shrub and tree species in the hedge and remnants of wood anemones and dog’s mercury at its feet indicate a piece of woodland which many years ago became the margin of a field when the rest of the woodland was assarted (felled for agriculture). The number of different trees and shrubs that make up the hedge reinforces its origins.

For hundreds of years, country people have foraged in the hedge for food and medicine. Ancient laws like Hedge Bote and Fire Bote were grants to tenants to gather small wood from hedges for certain purposes (e.g home fires). However, the odd timber trees which were allowed to grow up at intervals were strictly for the wealthy landowner.

We note other species as we wander along: Hazel, the catkins are long gone but with the promise of autumn nuts. Dogwood, branches once used for skewers, with beautifully curved leaves which will turn crimson in autumn are now covered in white flowers. Elder, needs no introduction, sweetest of blossom, perfect for home-made cordial - we see speckled with tiny flies, and then spot a lurking red-headed Cardinal Beetle preying on them. Native woodland trees, Oak, Ash and Field Maple, cut back in their prime, still flourish in ‘bonsai’ form within the hedgerow complex.

We stop and listen to a thin wheezy sound coming from a branch which pokes in an ungainly fashion up from the hedge line – “a little bit of bread and no cheeeeeeese”! And sure enough, a little brightly coloured yellow and chestnut Yellowhammer repeats his song “a little bit of bread and no cheeeese”.

We now see many families taking their daily exercise around this area. We hope they will come to love the treasures of the hedgerow as we have.

Yellowhammer bird

Yellowhammer singing - Lynne and Peter Flower