Trees, hedges and woodland are an integral part of our countryside and towns, providing multiple benefits to society, including filtering air pollution, creating wildlife habitats, improving water quality, reducing surface water runoff and contributing to sustainable drainage, as well as the stabilising of soils and slopes.
And, because they are of great historical and environmental importance, our hedges are protected by law, with three quarters being 600 years old or more. Our characteristic landscape of small irregular fields was largely formed between 1150 and 1350 AD when the enclosure of fields with hedges would have been considered progressive husbandry by medieval landlords.
Although initially an arduous task, hedge creation enabled better selective breeding and disease control for stock than was possible on common land.
Hedges also offered other important benefits, including the regular production of wood fuel, and different species of tree and shrub were grown for tool-making, hurdles and a multitude of other everyday uses.
Today a single hedge can support well over 2,000 species, and hedges are vital for most farmland wildlife, either as their main habitat or as essential wildlife corridors. Indeed, without them, many species would not survive. Amongst the most important are the Plymouth pear, brown hairstreak butterfly, cirl bunting, greater horseshoe bat, Devon whitebeam and the hazel dormouse. More information about all of these can be found here.
But unfortunately, hedgerows only thrive when they are properly managed. And, sadly, only about 40% of Devon’s hedges are in a healthy state. The major problem is that many are becoming increasingly thin because their management is limited to a close annual cut. Excessive growth of nettles, goosegrass and bracken is another concern, often as a consequence of fertiliser drift from adjacent fields.
Even so our hedges continue to define our farmed landscapes. Many comprise linear earth banks, faced either with stone or turf, with native trees or shrubs growing on them. And sometimes, here in Devon, banks with no trees or shrubs growing on them are still called hedges. However a complete Devon hedge is not just a bank with shrubs and the occasional mature tree growing on it, but also has associated flower-rich margins and ideally a ditch too.
Along with our hedges, our orchards, ancient woodland, veteran trees and ancient pasture are essential elements in our historic landscapes, including many historic parkland estates and designed landscapes.
You can find out more about our trees by going to Our Woodlands, and we also discuss Why Trees Matter and Protecting Trees, which represents an increasingly important part of the Society’s work, particularly along our Coast.
For example, in 2019, the Society was instrumental in ensuring the TPO placed on the woods on Moult Hill in Salcombe was renewed. The original order had been applied over sixty years earlier, and the passage of time had raised serious questions as to whether all the trees in the wood were properly protected. The woods themselves are highly visible in their spectacular estuary setting and form a key part of the AONB, which is so important to Salcombe’s community and visitor economy. It is also a key feature of our highly protected Heritage Coast, located within walking distance of one of the world famous Estuary’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Our other recent activity has included campaigning successfully against the felling of 14 Sycamore trees and one Ash at The Old Flower Farm on Beadon Road in Salcombe. We also succeeded in obtaining a TPO to protect the trees on land at Garden Mill, Kingsbridge. And we prevented a mature Sitka Spruce from being felled to enable construction vehicle access on a site at Beadon Road in Salcombe. Further examples are to be found amongst Our Objections.