The History of Hedgerow Trees: A Literature
Over the last 25 years there has been a revival
of concern about the condition of hedges and of hedgerow trees (Good, 1977).
Opinions stated in the literature on the subject differ greatly, but to gain a
better understanding of the issues involved the history of the hedgerow tree
will be recounted.
Hedges and hedgerow trees have their origins
very early in English history. Records show that they were certainly present in
the Anglo-Saxon times and. possibly earlier (Rackham, 1977). In the Medieval
period, before the enclosures, hedges had a variety of functions. They provided
a stock-proof barrier and a shelter for stock, a boundary marker for fields and
farms, as well as a source of fodder, timber and fruit (Countryside Commission,
1974; Rackham, 1977). At this time there were two ways in which a hedge could
be created, by planting (known as smallholders hedges) or by
leaving strips of primeval woodland (Cameron et al, 1980). Hedgerows
planted. by smallholders usually contained tree species that were available
locally, chosen with a variety of purposes in mind. (see above), other than
simply as a stock-proof barrier. Holly (Ilex aquifolium), :or example,
was often planted as a standby winter fodder; privet (Ligustrum
ovalifolium) as decoration; damson (Prunus domestica) as a cash
crop. Cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera), crab apple (Malus
sy1vestris) and possibly hazel (Corylus avellana) were grown for
food (Rackham, 1977). By contrast woodland relic hedges contained a selection
of woodland species, of which oaks made up a considerable percentage (Cameron
et al, 1980).
By the year 1250, possibly earlier, the
management of hedgerows was fully organised. Each hedgerow was made up of
several different strata, which could be easily distinguished. A typical hedge
might contain an underwood of shrubs (hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) or other
species), a mixture of timber trees, and coppiced and pollarded trees at
intervals (Rackham, 1977). Although the numbers of hedgerows increased, their
management changed very little until about 1750 (Cameron et al, 1980).
Larger timber trees were allowed to grow to greater dimensions than those in
woodland, and were sold for correspondingly higher prices. They were highly
sought after by shipbuilders, who preferred their wide-spreading crown and
variety of shapes. In Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, despite the quantity of Crown
woodland, over half the shipbuilding timber was in the form of non-woodland
trees (Rackham, 1977). At this time the timber trees were the property of the
landlord, but tenants had the right to cut coppice and to pollard trees. The
material cut was used for fencing and firewood. No part of the tree was wasted,
even the foliage being sold and the acorns used to fatten pigs (Rackham,
With the beginning of the main period of
enclosures in a] 1750 two further kinds of hedgerow appeared, those enclosing
open fields and those around commons (Cameron et al, 1980). These new
hedges contained a smaller proportion of timber trees. Agricultural reforms
brought about a reorganised of field systems and many old hedges were
grubbed-up (Rackham, 1977). Despite the decline of shipbuilding and the
increasing use of coal as fuel, oak timber remained a valuable part of farm
economy. Most of the oak trees that survive today were planted some 150-200
years ago (Bunyan, 1981).
Over the last 70 years hedgerow tree numbers
have decreased markedly. Rackharn (1977) indicates that there are several
possible reasons for this. Old hedges were grubbed-up to enhance mechanisation,
deep ploughing damaged tree roots and foliage was damaged by herbicides. Some
trees have also been lost through stubble burning. As was mentioned earlier
millions of hedgerow trees have been lost through Dutch elm disease. A more
fundamental influence has been the timber trades preference to using
imported timber, so that traditional arrangements for using and selling
hedgerow trees have disappeared (Rackham, 1977).
Table 1 summarises the
reasons given by the The Countryside Commission (1974) for and against the
planting of hedgerow trees.
Table 1: Summarised
Results of the 1974 Countryside Commission Discussion Paper, and Ward (1954).
Shelter for stock
Interfere with farm operations
Reduction of crop yields
Interfere with ditch maintenance
Damage to drains
Shade often causes gaps in hedge
Hedgerow trees are also felled to gain land, to
generate capital or because they have lost their agricultural function
(Countryside Commission, 1974).
1987 Robert I. Bradshaw