violet berries heaven-sent
to sustain winged travellers
and others toiling through the hours
preparing for a winter’s sleep,
reliant on the hedge to keep them
warm and safe from snow and fox.
Their hedgerow haven interlocks
with Nature’s finest works of art – misty mornings come to start the process of her autumn feast, inviting every bird and beast.
Photo credit - The Telegraph
Times of such benevolence
across the landscape, when each fence
was filled with berries, now are lain
in coffined rows with such disdain,
hewn from what they used to be
by savage manned machinery.
Stretched from road to distant valley,
every hedge the eye can see
is slashed to shape man’s vanity.
Every creature once reliant
on the verdant, towering giant
has watched it beaten down to sticks
with not a berry left to lick.
on every level, look across
to see what has been done at home,
remembering that every tomb
in view to mark where there was life
was subject to the slashing knife
for nothing more than how it looks.
Not for balancing the books,
nor even for a subsidy, but because the neighbourly
contestant said he had a cutter.
No objection did we utter.
With fieldfares and hedgehogs dead, others face the cold ahead with nothing bar the barren line of what the farmer thinks is fine.
Most of the plants that constitute wild hedgerows don’t lend themselves to topiary. Hawthorn, beech, laurel and alder are not built to withstand repeated mechanical cutting. Many tracts of hedge line are already dead, slashed to a fraction of their original height. Mature hedges that would once have housed nesting birds and provided cover for wildlife through the winter are reduced to clusters of weak sticks barely three foot high in many places, and even those permitted greater size are so diminished by annual machine attacks that any new growth is sparse and tender, totally inadequate as shelter for anything at any time of year.
Making matters even worse, this yearly assault takes place in early autumn, just as the bounty of fruit has ripened and before winter migrants have had a chance to feed up after their long journey south. Prolific flocks of fieldfares and redwings are no more, scarcely a handful of these lovely thrushes now to be seen in the fields as numbers have dropped sharply since such practice became prevalent. Any bird or animal dependent on the hedgerow harvest is deprived of it, because… well, because apparently every landowner has come to the conclusion that a neatly sliced, barely-alive hedge is preferable to one that can sustain living creatures.
On investigation, it appears that there is not even a financial incentive for slashing hedgerows every year. Natural England says there are guidelines in place to protect breeding birds, that it is illegal to cut hedges between September and March. This stipulation is useless, as the foodstuff provided exclusively by this habitat is relied upon through the coldest months and birds will not nest in places that offer no protection. A hedgerow you can see through is no viable habitat for anything requiring safety from predators or shelter from the elements.
While abundant flocks of finches, yellowhammers, tits and warblers that used to flit helter-skelter up and down the hedge lines are no more, it’s not just bird life that has suffered. Hedgehogs are endangered as everybody knows, their population weakened by the state of their natural home. As the crown of the hedge is subdued by massive blades, the bowl is also rendered bare, stripped of the dense undergrowth that used to characterise a mature hedgerow. Once upon a time, you couldn’t see through to the other side when you drove by in the car. You couldn’t see over the top into the field beyond. You could see a proliferation of wildlife all around the foliage, however, that simply isn’t there today.
With nothing but fashion to fuel this local deforestation, our wildlife is paying the price for no more than a sense of pride at the vision of a manicured boundary. Look further afield than the roadside, and the sheer volume of desecration is evident. Every single hedge line as far as the eye can see has been carved into a vestige of what it used to be - a verdant, abundant source of food and security for dozens of species growing rarer by the day. Compounded by threats from herbicides and pesticides, there seems to be little hope for the British hedgerow and its associated wild inhabitants. Unless or until the guardians of our landscape wake up to the level of destruction they are wreaking on what was before the Millennium an invaluable natural resource, we will continue to see precious populations of native birds and animals plummet towards extinction, and can hardly point fingers at the rest of the world for the savagery inflicted on irreplaceable environment.