Hazel, willow, beef and storytelling from Bedfordshire

No hedge crimes here

Hedge craftsmanship

Hedge craftsmanship

In the hands of an amateur, a tractor mounted flail can be bad news for a hedge. There’s still evidence of hedge crime to be found without looking too hard. But you’ve got to consider a bit of hedge history and take a look at what these things can do when in the right hands before being too critical.

It’s difficult to imagine the effect that the appearance of mechanical innovations on farms and farmers must have had – seed drills, tractors, combine harvesters… after generations; thousands of years of  grinding, physical work, a task was reduced to a dull expense.

A flail wouldn’t perhaps have had quite as earth shattering an effect as others, but in combination with (particularly in this part of England), widespread use of barbed wire, a dramatic increase in arable production and decrease in stock, a quick method to rule a hedge would have been something special.

Before the advent of financial incentives to  manage the whole landscape, hedges would have changed, in the space of just a few years, from a vital part of the farm to a time-consuming nuisance.

Of course, now we know the benefits that hedges bring (some of course financial) grubbing them out happens rarely and we are all planting new ones and spending time and money looking after old ones. The hedge reduced to a gappy row of stumps is more of a rarity than was the case twenty years ago. Times change, incentives change and people change. There’s a breed of flailers who have changed too, perhaps making up for past hedge crimes or just enjoying reaching the limits of what a flail can be made to do.

Thick, wide hedges cut with curved profiles are commonplace around here now – time consuming, expensive and requiring someone who really cares. Ours, pictured yesterday morning, just after our neighbour, Gordon Redman, left to do more hedge work in the village, looks a bit raw now, but in three months when the leaves flush green, it will be a thing of beauty.

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