Hedging your bets on hedgerows

In addition to looking attractive, trees and hedgerows can help to sustain a farmer’s livelihood as well as the landscape, says Tim Field


Restoring the patchwork quilt may be a guilty government’s attempt to repair the landscape or it could have great benefits for farm businesses. Tim Field decides whether new trees and hedgerows are sustaining farmers’ livelihoods.

Country types see hedgerows as opportunities: for a tricky jump, for a flushing point or for an excellent wild fruit jam. Follow the 7 best recipes for your hedgerow harvest for teas, tipples, sauces and jams.


The cynic in me looks at a young hedgerow, copse or shelter belt and thinks “subsidy”. It’s just a government’s guilt-ridden attempt to rectify the travesty of grubbing up tens of thousands of hedgerow miles in the destructive heights of the Green Revolution. Here we are, keeping the tax payer and tourists happy by restoring a quaint patchwork quilt over our green and pleasant land.

However, the countryman sees an opportunity: a hedge to jump; a larder to forage; a flushing point or a shelter from icy winds. Trees and hedgerows act as the natural corridors to connect on-farm habitats with neighbouring features and beyond. They have heritage value, with regionally distinctive architecture that creates an impenetrable barrier of uniformly laid hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, dog rose or field maple. Hosting the Cotswold Hedgelaying Championship this winter has been a reminder for me of a farm’s affinity with trees and shrubs.

This is all very well but how do a few trees and hedgerows sustain a livelihood as well as a landscape? After all, the norm is to advise conventional farmers to refrain from spraying conservation headlands along field margins under the pretence they are the least productive zones of an arable field, suggesting hedgerows might inhibit rather than improve crop yields. Don’t get me wrong, headlands have been an excellent initiative but this attitude implies hedgerows are nice to have but not essential and we lose sight of their wider value in production.

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