Introduction and Ecology Session

By Bridie Kennerley – DHYC student. Pictures by Jeremy Weiss

18th of June 2022

The first session of the Devon Hedge Year Course, held in the grounds of the South Devon Steiner School, offered us a chance to get to know each other and the hedge we will be working with over the next year.

We began with introductions around a campfire on a beautiful June morning. It was fascinating to hear about everyone’s backgrounds and varying journeys to being part of the course, whether as student or instructor.

Dominic Sheldon was our main instructor for this session, guiding us through the history and ecology of Devon and its hedges from the Ice Age to the present day. We learned about the hunter-gatherers who were replaced by Neolithic farmers (the first hedge creators), about the Beaker folk and Dartmoor’s Bronze Age heritage, and how the stealing of common land under the Enclosure Acts led to straighter, less diverse hedgerows.

We discussed what hedges offer to us humans, from stock proofing and reducing lamb mortality to timber production and pest control, but also their crucial ecological importance. Hedges mimic a woodland edge habitat, now a rare thing, and offer a transitional habitat for bats, birds, dormice and hedgehogs.

Devon’s 33,000 miles of hedgerow are incredibly diverse and, we learned, much is either overmanaged or neglected. Hedgelaying, alongside other management techniques such as coppicing or incremental trimming, will keep these amazing resources and habitats in great shape for years, centuries, perhaps even millennia to come.

After lunch, we got to know our hedge by carrying out a survey, led by Dom. We found 55 different plant species – trees, shrubs, wildflowers, grasses, climbers, herbs, thistles, ferns, all growing tangled together in this one stretch of hedgerow.

Sharing the day with a group of such enthusiastic and knowledgeable people was a real privilege, and I’m so excited to find out where the next year takes us all (including the hedge!).

Here is a full list of the species we found:

Woody species x 12:

Hazel – corylus avellana
Hawthorn – cretaegus monogyna
English Oak – Quercus robur
Holly – Ilex aquifolium
Dog rose – Rosa canina
Blackthorn – Prunus Spinosa
Dogwood – cornus alba
Wych elm – ulmus glabra
Elm hybrid – ulmus spp.
Honeysuckle – lonicera periclymenum
Field maple – Acer campestre
Sycamore – Acer Pseudoplatanus

Other plants x 43

Nettle – Urtica dioica
Cleavers – gallium aparine
Hemlock – Conium maculatum
Common chickweed – Stellaria media
Herb Robert – Geranium robertianum
Green spleenwort – Asplenium viride
Cuckoo pint – Arum maculatum
Wood false brome – Brachypodium sylvaticum
Ivy – hedera helix
Dog’s mercury – Mercurialis perennis
Bluebell – Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Curled leafed dock – Rumex crispus
Nipplewort – Lapsana communis
Garlic mustard – Alliaria petiolata
Hogweed – Heracleum sphondylium
Wood avens – Geum urbanum
Broad leaved dock – Rumex obtusifolius
Bracken – Pteridium aquilinum
Prickly sow thistle – Sonchus asper
Black bryony – Tamus communis
Foxglove – Digitalis purpurea
Smooth sow thistle – Sonchus oleraceus
Hedge bedstraw – Galium mollugo
Greater stitchwort – Stellaria holostea
Bramble – Rubus fruticosus
False oat-grass – Arrhenatherum elatius
Bush vetch – Vicia sepium
Hedge woundwort – Stachys sylvatica
perenial Ryegrass – Lolium perenne
Common field speedwell – Veronica persica
Meadow buttercup – Ranunculus acris
Sheep’s fescue -Festuca ovina
Spear thistle – Cirsium vulgare
Harts tongue fern – Asplenium scolopendrium
Red campion – Silene dioica
Primrose – Primula vulgaris
Yorkshire fog – Holcus lanatus
Softshield fern – Polystichum setiferum
Rough meadow grass – Poa trivialis
Creeping thistle – Cirsium arvense
Golden scale male fern – Dryopteris affinis
ground ivy – Glechoma hederacea
Black spleenwort – Asplenium adiantum-nigrum

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