Monday, May 23, 2022
HomeNewsNotes from the Sticks: The taming of a hawthorn hedge

Notes from the Sticks: The taming of a hawthorn hedge

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ABOUT this time last year I was disappointed to come across a newly laid hedge and find I had missed seeing it done by a couple of weeks. My luck was in this year, though, and I heard that the same man, Geoff Whitley, was doing a hedge beside the Ribble. This was a mile or so of saplings planted about eight years ago with a view to being laid for a hedge, mainly hawthorn but with a few hazel and blackthorn. First he takes off the larger branches on the side that will be laid on top of the hedge he has already done. Then using a battery-powered chainsaw, with narrow teeth of 3mm, he cuts diagonally down from right to left, leaving ideally 15 per cent of the width of the stem. The sapling is then bent to lie on top of the previous one, the twigs catching one another and holding the stem in place. The wedge of stem left sticking up is removed.

Finally he uses a mallet he made himself to hammer in stakes on each side of the hedge to give a neat finish. These will rot away in time, leaving a hedge which is impenetrable by livestock. (Sadly, though, the farmers still use wire fencing on the field side of the hedge because they get grants for it.)

This is a close-up of the cut stems

and this is a length of finished hedge.

It seems incredible to me that you can cut so far into a stem and yet not kill the plant, but here is the evidence in a picture which I took yesterday of hawthorn in leaf and blackthorn in flower looking perfectly fine.

For interest, here is the hedge which Geoff laid last year (I took these pictures a few weeks ago). The saplings were more mature and so the work took longer.  

You can see the vertical growth which has sprouted from the horizontal stems. (Gardeners use the same technique with climbing roses to get more flowers.)

On the opposite side of the road is a hedge which I am guessing was done the year before. I imagine Geoff did it but I forgot to ask.

And here is one done in the mists of time.

I love seeing these country crafts: so skilful and such beautiful results. I took a five-minute video of Geoff at work but I haven’t so far been able to include it in this blog (I am a useless old person). When I can, I will.

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There was a ludicrous story in the Times on Friday about foragers stripping the countryside of wild garlic (Allium ursinum) to sell to restaurants.

 I really don’t believe that gangs of marauding pickers are ‘spending hours stuffing binbags’ – the leaves would wilt before they were used. Nor is there an insatiable demand for the plant in restaurants – how many times have you seen it on a menu? But my main objection to the story is that there must be enough wild garlic in the country to feed every man, woman and child for a week. I took this picture on Friday – round here it is only just appearing but before long it will be everywhere.

If foragers can make a few quid (and it can’t be more) out of the back-breaking task of picking wild garlic, good luck to them.

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Sheep of the Week

The first few in this series were without horns, so to redress the balance here is the Manx Loaghtan, which often boasts four, and apparently sometimes six.

If they have just the two horns, they are impressive.

The only time I have seen these sheep is in Southwold, in Suffolk, where a chap had a small flock.

As the name suggests the Manx Loaghtan (pronounced ‘loch tan’) is native to the Isle of Man. It is one of the Northern European short-tailed sheep breeds, and is descended from the primitive sheep once found throughout Scotland, the Hebrides, and Shetland Islands.

They were once plentiful on the Isle of Man but by the 1950s there were only 43 specimens. Manx National Heritage developed two healthy flocks but there are still fewer than 1,500 registered breeding females. The breed is raised for its meat which in 2008 received EU recognition and protection under the Protected Designation of Origin scheme, which requires products with a regional name to originate in the named region.

It is a small sheep with (usually) dark brown wool. You can read more about it at the Manx Loaghtan Sheep Breeders Group. 

Here is a video of a flock in Devon.

If you are a fan of horned sheep, you might appreciate these amazing Hungarian Racka sheep which I came across on the internet.

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Finally, don’t forget that reader Kathy Nel (‘linuslimmy’) is collating anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Send your comments and observations to this address: missingcritters@yahoo.com. If you leave a comment below the line, we need a geographical location to be able to use it.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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