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The Hedgerow

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Hedgerow Book www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com*

muddy boots www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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This morning I struggle with the swollen front door, meeting a wall of wind which makes me stagger. I head over to the cow field. The going is getting really tough, each foot sinking into a sticky squelchy hole. A jet of liquid mud and manure is nicely timed to splatter over my jeans. This morning we heard on the radio that the main train line has been washed away by the sea at Dawlish.

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The trees are swaying like giant jellies and the bawling wind is deafening. The rain stings, little pinpricks on my skin. The cows aren’t bothered and they are grazing down the hill, though the moment they see me they pick up their hooves eagerly, and squelch and slip towards me. I have the usual moment of utter disbelief at the state the field, and the usual response it’ll stop soon, won’t it? spring is coming, things will dry out, the grass will recover

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muddy field www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com*

River Valley North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This is the view from the cow field. Normally you can’t see the river very well as it is hidden by steep sides. The adjoining field aslo flooded here.

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Muddy Cow Feet www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Dainty

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Despite all, we have managed to get some some winter jobs sorted out on the dry days. Hedge work has been ongoing for a few years as we are in the process of restoring our hedgerows  – not on our own though, far too big a job for us alone, we have lots of help. It doesn’t come cheap but we think it’s worth it.

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Layed Hedge Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This is new growth sprouting from the hedgelaying last winter. It’s a little rough and ready and not as beautiful as some hedgework but we are working with what we’ve got – in this case, outgrown hazel. Hawthorn whips were planted to fill any gaps, though the hazel is quite dominant. In the past, without barbed wire the bulk of the hedge would have been hawthorn or ‘quickthorn’ as it is known colloquially.

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Layed Hedge Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

You can see here where the hazel was laid down with a cut from the billhook.

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Billhook www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

A billhook

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The thicker hedges will provide a great habitat for wildlife. We leave some trees at intervals, as is tradition. These provide shade and another kind of habitat.

This book ‘Hedgerow’ by Eric Thomas & John T White is now out of print but it is a lovely book and some copies are still available online. I think it deserves a reprint. It’s supposed to be a children’s book but hey, why let them have all the fun?

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Cut native hedge Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This is one boundary which had overgrown into trees. We’ll do the other half next year.

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Hedge Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

This hedge down the bridlepath has a lot of sycamore in it – not something you want in a hedge. This year we have taken on getting rid of them by cutting and poisoning the stumps. This work has to be done in the winter, soon the shoots of bluebell, campion and stitchwort will appear.

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Sycamore stump www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

One of the sycamore stumps ready to apply the poison. I drilled holes into the top as well. It looks brutal but will be beneficial in the long run for the all the flora along this stretch.

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Traditional Hereford Heifer www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Hello, what are you doing in the hedge? Bit windy?

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Showing all the useful plants found in a hedge in autumn

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We are also having trees cut for some of next winters firewood, using old pollard points to take the trees back to. Pollarding is an ancient practice of harvesting tree growth at a manageable height. This wood had many uses in the past…animal fodder, firewood, wood for the production of simple household items such as door handles and broom sticks. The Hedgerow book takes you on a fascinating journey into the history and culture of the hedgerow.

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Slightly neater than ours... Hedgelaying competitions are still held every winter to find the quickest and neatest craftsman. I've always enjoyed the process, if you get a chance, do pick up a billhook and give it a go.

Slightly neater than ours… Hedgelaying competitions are still held every winter to find the quickest and neatest craftsman. I’ve always enjoyed the process, if you get a chance, do pick up a billhook and give it a go.

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Hedge Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Hedgework and the resulting firewood

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The hedges’ summer bounty – showing edible and medicinal plants.

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Ash Tree Pollard www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

An ash tree pollarded

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Ash Tree Pollard www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

An ash taken back to old pollard points – this tree has been managed like this for many years. Pollards live for a very long time – some oaks pollards have survived 600 years. I always think about the people all those years ago cutting in this same way.

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Some of the products which might have been made from the hedge

Some of the products which might have been made from hedge & tree wood

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As the grass is so wet there is not much nutrient to be had from what’s left on the pasture. The cows are always hungry, they really love the hay. Every time I split a bale last summer just tumbles out. I have to corral them while I clean out their shed and divvy up the hay, otherwise it’s all a bit hectic. Just don’t get between a heifer and her hay!

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Traditional Hereford Heifers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Don’t worry I’m not going to steal it…

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What a lovely haul

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Logs in Field www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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Another beautiful feature of the book are the double and four page spreads in the centre. Obviously my pictures don’t do it justice but you get the idea.

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This is the diversity which you would hope for in a traditionally managed hedgerow.

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And come autumn...

And come autumn…

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Hedgerows are steeped in social history

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And just to finish off, the cows in their natural habitat…

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Traditional Hereford Heifers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com*

Traditional Hereford Heifers www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

We’re coming, where’s our hay?

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54 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mud glorious mud eh?! The hedges are looking lovely, what a great skill to have and of course your beautiful cows are as gorgeous as always.

    February 8, 2014
    • Extrememud! Even more sodden since the post. How’s it over your way? Glad you like the hedges, I have to say that I didn’t do much of this work, but I do like a bit of cutting and laying now and again, there’s something very satisifying about it.

      February 10, 2014
      • Mudsville here too, but I’m sure not as bad as you with your cows in the field. It has to stop sometime, doesn’t it?

        February 10, 2014
  2. Bought the book. Great post, education and entertainment (and mud) in equal measure.

    February 8, 2014
    • Glad you enjoyed it. The book is lovely. I have to confess that I have it in my possession from an ex manfriend – which I *forgot* to give back after the break up. I do feel a bit bad about it now. I’ve ordered another one too, so maybe my old copy might find its way back to the rightful owner.

      February 10, 2014
  3. It’s so beautiful Sarah! Love what your doing with the hedgerows – they’re so important to the countryside. Really like reading your updates 🙂

    February 8, 2014
    • Maddie! How are you? Thanks, I’m so glad you’re enjoying them. The hedges are amazing.

      February 10, 2014
  4. Really love what you are doing, life wise. Just heard a Ted talk about bees and the trouble they are in. I am trying to encourage my clients to dedicate a bit of their huge suburban lots to a wildflower “meadow” (patch really) to help the bees. “But won’t that be messy? or What about my lawn?” Is the usual reply. Still every little bit of education counts and kudos to you for restoring your hedgerows. How cool are you?

    February 8, 2014
    • Ah many thanks Craig. You work on those clients! When people understand the issues they can get behind it. Are you still in BR? Bet there are stunning wild flowers in your part of the world. Thanks for reading the blog, I really appreciate it.

      February 10, 2014
  5. Loved this! Crazy weather all around then – we’ve been buried in snow here. Envy you all that great wood. Glad to see the girls looking well.

    February 8, 2014
    • Your wood burner must be eating it up – ours did last winter when it was cold. It really is crazy and seems to be never ending! This breed of cow can survive on very little, they don’t need extra feed in the winter, apart from the hay.

      February 10, 2014
  6. Ah, so good to hear what’s going on down in Cornwall – it’s pretty wild and wet here in London today, but fortunately no muddy fields/liquid manure to navigate!

    February 8, 2014
    • Sounds like you’re still keeping busy though. Don’t work too hard, rest like the plants 🙂

      February 10, 2014
  7. Alan Cardy #

    Really enjoyed reading this and seeing the pictures. You brave woman x

    February 8, 2014
    • Ah so lovely to see you here Alan! Glad you’re enjoying it. It’s a far cry from the old days eh?! Gathered around the warmth of your TV flames in the early hours 🙂

      February 11, 2014
  8. I love your life! Even with the rain and mud it seems idyllic! 🙂

    February 8, 2014
    • ‘Seems’ might be the operative word here! The power of words and pictures to seduce 🙂 No, it’s not bad at all and I do feel incredibly fortunate to have all this beauty around. You must feel the same thing in the mountains.

      February 10, 2014
  9. I had no idea about the hedgerows. I’m fascinated! Your cows look really lovely and happy, that’s hardly any mud at all! Squish squish, it must sound so odd to hear them coming to see you 🙂

    February 8, 2014
    • Are you even deeper in it?! It has got a lot worse since these pictures, the rain just keeps coming and coming. It’s really difficult to walk through, every time I feed them now it takes ages! Yes, hedgerows can be a wealth of biodiversity. Unfortunately modern methods of management are less helpful to allowing this to happen but they are still incredibly valuable. Glad you enjoyed the post.

      February 10, 2014
  10. Charlotte #

    Great post – makes you realise how much is going on in a hedgerow! Think I’ll have to get the book…..

    February 9, 2014
    • Thanks Charlotte. They are amazing structures, full of goodies and history.

      February 10, 2014
  11. Gue' #

    I’ve been seeing videos of all the storm damage, including that washed out railway. This winter has just been one storm after another.

    I knew a little bit about hedgerows and their upkeep but your post and pictures was really informative. I’m always thrilled to learm something new. You’ve been putting in a lot of work, despite nasty conditions this winter.

    I am always very reluctant to buy online, mainly because my thrifty Scots blood simply cringes at putting charges on our credit card. I am going to take the plunge, as ‘The Hedgerow’ is screaming to be added to my overflowing book shelf!

    It’s nice to see the girls doing so good.

    February 9, 2014
    • Hello Gue, I don’t think you’ll disappoint your Scots heritage with spending your hard earned on this book – always a delight. Glad you found the post informative and I was able to top up your knowledge. They’ve been dear to my heart since I started getting interested in conservation back in the 1990’s. I set up a volunteer project in London to restore a 200m stretch of old hawthorn hedge on my allotment site – and got hooked! Thanks for the visit, best wishes to you.

      February 10, 2014
  12. mrscarmichael #

    What a lovely post – adore the way you’ve intertwined your life with a super book that does, I think, need a reprint.
    It sounds as if you are ok there unlike the Somerset Levels and next week sounds to be as bad as before. It’s gonna’ be a bumpy ride. Hay bales at the ready.

    February 9, 2014
    • Hello mrscarmichael glad you enjoyed the intertwining. Yes, we’re lucky to be high up so no flooding here, though I did have to turn back on my way to Liskeard as the Fowey had burst it’s banks. Feeling very sorry for the poor folk with homes under water. I wonder if books ever get reprinted, surely it must be easier these day…maybe it’s possible to buy the rights, perhaps I should start a campaign!

      February 10, 2014
  13. I remember winter…it does seem a LONG time ago that it visited and it was too short to be sweet 😦 I love your hazel hedge. Hawthorns were used to delineate paddocks here in Tasmania in our distant past and there are still wonderful examples of hawthorn fences all over the place. That billhook looks deadly and solid. I love the idea of hedgerows but we just don’t get enough rain here to enable them to be as fecund as they are in the UK. They would soon get overtaken by blackberries here along with their nefarious partners in crime the banana passionfruit. At least we wouldn’t have to “see” our long suffering/complaining neighbour Frank any more if we instituted a nice “hedgerow” all along our adjoining fence…”Great idea ma’am!” 😉

    Sycamores can’t get a hold here because they are particularly tasty to our endemic possums who strip the saplings of leaves and cause them to die of starvation. You have me really thinking about planting out the fenceline with hawthorn, perhaps Washington hawthorn with edible berries? Lots of lovely thorns (to stop prying eyes) for habitat and protection and I could replace the half dead photinia on the church fenceline with them also. Hopefully they grow fast! 😉

    I love that most of your “useful hedgerow plants” are our invasive weed species ;). The best part about the hedgerow idea is to allow our property to have boundaries in a sort of catchment/Hugelkultur way. It would serve the purpose of catching the soil displaced by winter rain and holding it on the property along with creating a water sink in the soil where water could soak in rather than following the soil into the Tamar River. GREAT IDEA! 🙂

    As much as I love the idea of hedgerows, my mantra is going to have to be “first plant your hedge!” no hedgerow ever sprung from a severe dearth of “hedge” ;). What a lovely long post full of possibilities for both sides of the lake. Cheers for the great idea and narf7 will be cultivating hawthorns in the near future to plant out as prospective haw hedging come a summer not too far away 🙂 Hugs from Tassie 🙂

    By the way…”STOP HOGGING OUR RAIN!”

    February 9, 2014
    • Excellent, I’ve started a hedge revolution…yeah spread the hedge love 🙂 Hawthorns are pretty tough and easy to propogate. I’m sure it would do some work on the water retention. Do you have any native hedgy type plants at all?. Though maybe hawthorn not a problem like all those other invasive weeds 🙂 I’ll look forward to reading all about it over at yours.

      Glad you enjoyed the post, STOP HOGGING OUR SUN!

      February 10, 2014
      • I am afraid ma’am, on this occasion, it’s a matter of “supply and demand” We have all of the sunshine we can supply and I DEMAND that you take your fair share! 😉 In saying that, I would come cap in hand to you for a bit of rain. We are stony motherless broke when it comes to soil moisture. That’s why I thought the hawthorns would make an excellent all round hedge (with the added bonus of making Frank twitch 😉 ) for habitat, food and water retention as well as being tough as nails and able to withstand our ozoneless sun dried country here in Tassie in summer. I am learning a whole lot from just living in the country. In the city its completely artificial and a rule unto itself but out here you have to listen to nature or she MAKES you listen.

        After giving up on the fecund green English cottage garden ideal I discovered that there is a wealth of amazing drought tolerant annuals and perennials out there just waiting to wave their magic on our Mediteranean climate here in Northern Tasmania and suddenly the doors are all opening again while I research South American natives, European natives and American Midwest natives that would all be perfect along with an amazing array of flowering perennials that double as food including dahlias, day lilies and canna lilies of all things! I LOVE the internet 🙂

        February 10, 2014
    • You certainly do (have to listen to nature) I’m listening to it right now and it’s deafening, bloeing another gale! Your plans sound great. I’ve got a good book…’The Dry Gardening Handbook’ by Olivier Filippi if you ever come across it. It’s everything you want to know!

      February 14, 2014
      • I am going to see if I can’t find it. Cheers for the share…I LOVE communal knowledge 🙂 No gales here just hot dry wind blowing tumbleweeds over the garden…I can’t WAIT for rain! We were supposed to be getting some this weekend but it seems to have blown over now so blue skies, hot sun and parched earth 😦

        February 15, 2014
  14. It’s visual poetry from beginning to end all knitted together beautifully. And what a great book. You got me thinking about hedging all the way to Oxford and back today. I began with tanglewood hedgerow and ended up with mangleword edgegrow. Not so satisfying as getting your hands dirty cutting and pleaching and encouraging new growth. You must feel a great sense of achievement.

    February 9, 2014
    • Mangleword edgegrow, love it! Is my post like a hedge then? I’ve got to be honest and say that not much of this work was done by me! I’m more prone to cutting and slashing on the page these days 🙂 Thanks for the visit.

      February 10, 2014
  15. Lovely – I bought the book too.
    This is a hard time of year and the harbingers of hope are precious – like you say, spring is coming, not yet, but soon. All that careful, skilful tending of the hedgerows you do just like farmers have done for hundreds of years is hopeful too, and so are the new plans for hawthorn boundary hedges in Tasmania from narf77 🙂

    February 9, 2014
    • Glad you found it hopeful. You’ve got to hang on to what you can in these conditions 🙂 I won’t mention the mice who have eaten ALL the crocus bulbs I was getting ready for the Perennial stall and now they’ve started on the tulips. Sigh. At least they’ll be nice and plump for those Tawny Owl chicks we are hoping to lure with the nesting box.

      The book is a gem, I think the suppliers are going to be wondering why they’ve got a rush on. Maybe it’ll clean them out!

      February 10, 2014
  16. What a wonderful post, all the way around! I had absolutely no idea how much habitat diversity existed in your hedgerows… just fascinating. What work though, wow!!

    February 10, 2014
    • Hello Feygirl,

      Nice new portrait of you!

      Glad you found it fascinating, they truly are wonderful pieces of diversity and history. These days many do tend to get flail mown by time/money pressed farmers and the clippings are left to rot down…this does to make it all a bit nutrient rich which encourages the more dominant plants to take over. We’re trying to manage in an old fashioned way to increase the diversity – I’ll be posting some pictures in the spring to see what’s coming up, we’ve removed most of the nettles, which although do have some benefits can get over dominant.

      Thanks for the visit, lovely to see you 🙂

      February 10, 2014
      • Hee, thanks so much — that’s on one of my hikes, trying to stay chipper while I’m lost in some swampy area. Alone. 🙂

        It’s just fascinating. I honestly had no idea. And countless kudos to you guys for managing it in the traditional fashion, to support that diversity. Sometimes, things were done certain ways for very good reasons, yah? I can’t WAIT to see the progress….!!

        Good luck — and with that rain, too!

        February 12, 2014
    • Alone in a swamp. That sounds…well, lonely. We’ve just got the swamp. No chance of being alone for long in the UK! I love all those huge spaces you have 🙂

      February 14, 2014
      • Oh believe me — sadly, I have to hunt them down, especially here. Humans have eaten up this precious, unique habitat. But here’s to changing that tide, wink!!

        February 15, 2014
  17. Katherine Kearns #

    I’d like to think we met because of a hedgerow 🙂 You organising training and doing the hard work…and me going to all those loooooong allotment meetings to extract a small amount of money for tools!

    Very interesting times for biodiversity: here, the government cuts might just be producing the fantastic knock on effect of reducing the amount the local authority cuts the grass. If we can only persuade our councillors, there could be more wildflowers and long grass in the suburbs and less pointless mowing. The biggest challenge will indeed be persuading the neat freaks to relax and enjoy the longer grass.

    February 10, 2014
    • We certainly did. Crikey, that seems so long ago. Oh it was! And so fruitful, fun and took both our lives in a new direction. And most enjoyable it was too, I’m so glad we met over the hedge and rhubarb x x

      It’s great that the cuts are having some good effects amidst all this gloom. I’m sure you can persuade the neat freaks, just put on your stern face. 🙂

      February 10, 2014
  18. This has been an absolutely fascinating read, post and comments alike. I don’t believe I’d ever heard the word “hedgerow” until I moved to Texas, and even then I always was confused. Were they talking about hedge rows, or hedge rose? As it turned out, a little of both were involved. Fields sometimes are edged with hedge (oops! Accidental rhyme alert!) and most often it is a variety of hedge rose.

    Still, where this level of work takes place around the edges, it’s most often rockwork, especially farther north. I suspect your kind of hedgerow might be more common in our east and northeast, but I’ve never been there to see. Of course it’s lovely to look at, but that habitat function is important, too.

    I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather there, too. I’ve not been able to contact my friend in Wales, but I’m hoping she’s either traveling or has decamped to higher ground. I did have to smile, though. When I was growing up in Iowa, the spring mud was something to behold. With a good six feet or more of loam in the fields, letting them dry in spring could be quite a process. And in my childhood, many of our roads still were dirt/mud/gravel, and more than a few folks enjoyed being helped by a farmer with tractor and chain when the thaw began!

    February 11, 2014
    • So many words rhyme with hedge! There’s got to be a poem in there hasn’t there? 🙂

      Actually I slightly neglected to mention that there is a major difference between Cornish hedges and those upcountry – they are built of stone first and infilled with soil and then planted on top – I guess this was because there were so many stones littered about. My friend Tim has also posted about it on his blog http://yurtworld.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/hedgelaying.html it is also an interesting read if you’re interested.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Iowa sounds like it must have been a mudbath for a while each year! Hope you’ve managed to catch up with your friend – things have got even more blowy here today, I nearly got blown over near the coast in search of an old ruin…

      February 14, 2014
      • I just got home from work and found our weathermen posting about Newlyn, Cornwall. Terrible video footage from there – like this! Stay safe out there!

        February 14, 2014
  19. Wonderful post and photos! And I will quit griping about the snow here after looking at the rain and sodden conditions you folks are dealing with. Amazon had several copies of The Hedgerow for sale btw if you can bear the extortionate shipping costs. Wishing better weather on you!

    February 13, 2014
  20. Gue' #

    I’ll bet the used booksellers in both the UK and the US are wondering why there’s been s sudden upsurge in orders for copies of “Hedgerow” ! lol

    February 13, 2014
  21. So interesting. I know nothing of hedgerows…..but am now intrigued. I might have to go on amazon and look for that book. 🙂

    February 16, 2014
  22. Fascinating and beautifully presented post. As I read it I’m wondering why we don’t have hedgerows here, rather than expensive non-renewable electrified fencing. When old fences are neglected they get overgrown with cedars, grapevines, briers, honeysuckle and the like. We had those kinds of fences on our farm when we started our rehab of it. Instead of treating them like hedgerow and tending them as you have, we pushed them down and built proper fences. Wish we had thought of hedgerows.

    Thanks for this great post.

    February 16, 2014
    • Sorry for delay Bill, thanks for the comment. It’s never too late to have a hedgerow…think of all the birds and the invertebrates you could attract! Make the habitat and they will come 🙂 I’m not sure how old ours are but probably about 250 yrs even though there’s been a farm here since the 1600’s.

      March 6, 2014
  23. One way to date a hedge is to ask it out for dinner at a fine restaurant.

    February 26, 2014
  24. Rhonda Crowe #

    Fascinating read on the hedgerows! I had no idea you could date them – what history! I hope your weather is turning out better now that it is March. We have had record snow amounts in my area of Indiana, record cold temperatures, and winter started early so it has been a long one. Hearts and minds are ready for spring and the daffodils 🙂 Good to see the ladies are doing well. Are there plans to breed this spring?

    March 5, 2014
    • Hello Rhonda, lovely to see you. Yes we’ve got a bit of high pressure coming our way this weekend…finally. Your winter sounds bitter I bet you’re ready for a change too. Yes, we’re going to AI them in May, all very exciting. Though of course a whole nine months before we see a little one. The field is a quagmire, soooo looking forward to it drying out. I’m sure the cows do too, they really do look a bit miserable always squelching through the mud.

      March 6, 2014
  25. Heyyy look – lovely blog by Ruth Thomas, daughter of Hedgerow illustrator Eric Thomas http://thethoughtfox.co.uk/letters-from-moomin-valley
    She talks about her dad and his friend John (the writer of Hedgerow) and how it led to her getting letters from Tove Jansson, who wrote the Moomins 🙂

    March 15, 2014

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