England’s hedgerows run for hundreds of thousands of miles, but a lot have disappeared, due to modern farming methods. We have lost nearly all our wild nettles, clover and docks. Hedges were built to keep livestock safe in fields, but also capture carbon, which helps to reduce climate change. They can also protect wildlife from the wind, rain and sun – and many people use the fruits of the hedgerow to make blackberry jam, nettle soup and sloe gin.
Most of our hedgerows are hundreds of years old, a few are thousands of years old. Farmers like hedgerows, as they stop the soil being blown away by the wind. Many creatures love hedgerow including butterflies, dormice, newts, newts and rare caterpillars also love hedgerows. You’ll also find pretty woodland flora including hawthorn, dog rose, bramble, honeysuckle, bluebells and hazel.
- Hedgelink is a charity working to save our hedgerows. Also download Hedging, a practical handbook from The Conservation Volunteers that can teach you how to plant new hedges and restore neglected ones. Learn about the law, safety and tools. Or volunteer.
- A Natural History of the Hedgerow introduces you to a countryside bursting with blackberries, hazelnuts and sloes; home to oak and ash, field mice and butterflies. But as we dream of foraging for wayside nettles for soup, most are unaware how hedgerows have shaped our landscape and fellow species.
- Flowers to Spot is a beautiful little book to help readers identify 60 flowers in hedgerows, marshes and meadows, including cornflowers, poppies, honeysuckle and harebells. Organised by location, showing flowers you may also find in towns and by roadsides.
- The Hedgerow Apothecary shows how to make delicious preserves, healing balms, soothing toddies and cures for colds with nature’s jewels (rosehips, elderberries and mugwort). Author Christine Iverson runs courses on foraging and remedies from hedgerow finds in Sussex. Avoid herbs if you are pregnant/nursing or on medication, without permission from your doctor. Do not use these herbs near pets or children.
- Heavenly Hedgerows makes local preserves, from foraged fruits. Buying from companies that sustainably harvest hedgerow fruits, helps to create a demand, so developers won’t chop hedges down. The range includes plum, strawberry and a Sloe & Crap Apple Jelly.
England is slowly eroding, and an awful lot of it is the hedgerows. We’re reaching the point where a lot of the English countryside looks just like Iowa – just kind of open space. American writer Bill Bryson
How to Help Our Sleepy Dormice
Dormice feast up on hazelnuts before hibernating, and then like many creatures, sleep right through the winter (they are asleep for 7 months). That’s why they are so endangered, because lack of hedgerows due to modern farming practices, means they often don’t find enough food to survive through the winter. Restoring our hedgerows and planting hazelnut trees in the wild, are the two best ways to help them.
Read your child Dormouse and His Seven Beds. The animals in Green Forest keep waking up, to the surprise of Little Dormouse sleeping in their houses: in Rabbit’s carrot box, in Robin’s tie drawer and even on Deer’s antlers. So they tell him to stop. But then they find out that the reason is because he doesn’t like to sleep alone – so he trundles off into the forest, to try to sleep in the house of the dangerous wolf. Realising what has happened, the animals go on a mission to find him: from now on, he will have seven beds in seven houses, to sleep in – one for every day of the week!
A Beginner’s Guide to Rewilding
This beginner’s guide to rewilding is a short introduction to a subject that is often in the media, these days. What is it? It’s simply a way to let nature take care of itself. If you leave things alone, usually it’s best. There is even a community of people who want the human population to die out, to avoid more damage!
Rewilding usually involves buying up land that is due for a human to do something bad (like Boris Johnson’s ‘build, build, build’ philosophy) and then leave it for something good to happen. Actor Mackenzie Crook (who played geeky Gareth in ‘The Office’) is now an ardent environmentalist. He seems to be morphing into Paul Kingsnorth, using money from a recent project to resist the Ferrari and buy a local forest instead, so nobody could build on it.
You have to know what you’re doing: freeing up dams could have consequences for beavers, and introducing wild boar and wolves is something that is not to be taken lightly. But real rewilding is far more organic: simply letting wildflower meadows grow to give food to native bees and butterflies, or planting forests and stopping the artificial ‘management’ of native wildlife, using knowledge from wildlife experts instead. As well as helping to save the 50% or so of our species that are endangered, it also provides beautiful places to notice nature.
Some farmers are not fans of charities buying land, to just leave alone. But rewilding has many fans including environmental writer George Monbiot and naturalist Chris Packham (who mounted a legal challenge to stop HS2, which will kill around 22,000 wildlife yearly).
Rewilding across England
Trees 4 Life has a post of the 10 most exciting rewilding programs in the UK, including:
- Dingle Marshes (Suffolk) is rewilding 93 hectares of wild marshland, home to bittern and marsh harriers, and other havens for bird life.
- Great Fen, Cambridgeshire has seen lapwings, avocets (wader birds) and cranes return, along with rare water voles.
- Soar Valley (Leicestershire) is rewilding the flood plains, and preventing further building, and working with local farmers to minimise chemical run-off and plant woodlands.
- Wild Ennerdale (Cumbria) is creating a wild valley in the Lake District and letting forestry tracks grow over, so the river is left to find its own way.
- Knepp Castle Estate (West Sussex) has let the infertile land return to the wild, which now has all 5 species of UK owls, 13 out of 17 species of bats, and rare turtle doves, nightingales, falcons, lesser-spotted woodpeckers and purple emperor butterflies.
Beautiful Books on Rewilding
If rewilding yourself, see plants & trees to avoid near pets (avoid cocoa/pine/rubber mulch & fresh compost near pets). Use humane safe slug/snail deterrents & no-dig garden methods. See safer alternatives to netting for wildlife, if used. Many plants (inc. yew & oak trees) are toxic to equines.
- Rootbound: Rewilding a Life is the story of Alice Vincent, who 20 years after enjoying her grandfather’s garden, lives in a tiny London flat. Suddenly uprooted and yearning for comfort of home, she starts to plant greenery on windowsills and draining boards. And with each unfurling petal and budding leaf, she comes back to life.
- Wild Your Garden is by ‘the Butterfly Brothers’. They show you how to create a garden that can help boost local biodiversity. Transform a paved-over yard to a lush oasis, create refuges for native species, and turn a high-maintenance unused lawn into a nectar-rich mini-meadow to attract bees and butterflies.
- Rewild Your Garden is a delightfully illustrated guide to the plants and techniques to encourage native wildlife. Whether you have a balcony or large open space, horticulturalist Frances Tophill can help bring back wild spaces to your garden.
- Rebirding looks at why our species are (‘trapped in tiny pockets of habitat’) with 94% of unbuilt land. We should have the best wildlife density in Europe. The author believes that rewilding our national parks and restoring natural ecosystems is the answer to revive Britain’s dying rural landscapes back to life.
- Irreplaceable is a book on the fight to save our wild places. From Kent to Glasgow to India, wild places are disappearing. This is a love letter to the haunting beauty of these landscapes and the wild species that call them home – including nightingales, lynxes, hornbills, redwoods and elephant seals. It is also a timely reminder of the vital connections between humans and nature, and all that we stand to lose in terms of wonder and wellbeing.
Books about Our Lovely Landscapes
These books about our lovely landscapes are ideal rainy day reads, or indeed books to read under a tree, sitting in the landscape. We really have issues with losing a lot of our landscape, from the HS2 high-speed rail project to Boris Johnson’s promise to ‘build, build, build’ in a never-ending quest for economic growth. So sit back, enjoy these books and come away with a new education, and viewpoint on how to help. And learning about the real world (not the consumerist made-up ones) reminds us why we live zero waste, in the first place.
- The Land of the White Horse looks at the history of The White Horse at Uffington on the North Wessex Downs. Was it a memorial to King Alfred the Great, a prehistoric banner or a way to draw the sun across the sky? Discover the landscape that inspired artists, poets and writers.
- The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh is a beautiful scholar’s guide to the home of the world’s most beloved bear. Kathryn Aalto offers an enchanting book, to visit the ancient black walnut tree on the edge of the forest, that became Pooh’s house. Or visit pine trees to find Poohsticks Bridge, and climb Galleons Lap, where Pooh says goodbye to Christopher Robin.
- Hidden Histories explains what all the lumps and bumps are in the fields you have walked or driven past. Or have you walked between two lines of grand trees, and wondered when and why they were planted? This entertaining and education book has the answers. Mary-Ann Ochota points out details for curious spotters. Includes a glossary of what different field names mean.
- Native: Life in a Vanishing Landscape takes you north to Patrick Laurie’s family farm in Scotland. This isolated part of the land is now commercial forest, since people of Galloway deserted the land and moors in the last 30 years. The people and cattle are now gone, and the new forests have seen the catastrophic decline of the curlew, a local bird. This book explores the links between cattle, people and wild birds.
- Underland by Robert Macfarlane takes us on a journey into the worlds beneath our feet. From the ice-blue depths of Greenland’s glaciers to the underground networks by which trees communicate, this book takes us further afield. From Bronze Age burial chambers to the rock art of remote Arctic sea-caves.
A Beginner’s Guide to Foraging
Foraging means eating wild food for free. Sounds good, but you have to know what you’re doing, to avoid poisoning yourself. Also it’s really important to know how to pick, and what not to pick – to protect nature, wildlife and endangered plants.
Keep conkers away from pets, horses and wildlife. Blue Cross has more info.
- This cotton canvas foraging bag is handmade in Bristol, from durable cotton canvas. It has a beautiful retro design and handy loop, to hang onto your belt. You can wash the cotton liner, to remove berry stains. To close, hold the bag flat and pull the sides together, then tie shut.
- Woodland Trust has a guide on what to forage. Don’t pick items you don’t know (chervil is safe, hemlock can kill).
- Never forage without permission, or wildlife may be impacted. For instance, you taking hazelnuts could mean a dormouse dying in hibernation.
- At the seaside, avoid foraging for seaweed (experts know how to do this safely and ‘give seaweed a haircut, not removing the roots). Don’t let dogs eat seaweed (they like to play with the fronds, but these can expand in the stomach, as they dry).
- Pick common plants that re-grow (only pick leaves, never damage the roots). If you see ‘little alligators’ on leaves, these are baby ladybirds (laid in nettles to protect them). Leave for a few weeks until gone, only pick the top tips. If you don’t mind the odd sting, nettles are good in tea or nettle soup (don’t pick when in flower).
- Don’t forage items that look like something has pooed on them. John Rensten of Forage London says to ensure that anything you pick is ‘out of the dog wee zone’ (see his foraging safety tips for more info). Avoid fume-covered berries near roads. Berries freeze well.
- The Urban Forager includes 32 veggie recipes by a professional forager to make hawthorn berry ketchup, cherry blossom shortbread, nettle ravioli, elderflower fritters and cowslip summer rolls. Forage London runs courses (Dorset, Hampshire).