Thursday, 5 December 2013

Hedgerow Harvest

Posted by Rosie

Medlar tree and fruits
Every year hedgerows around Eco-Gites of Lenault provide rich pickings for those who know where to look. From the first wild garlic leaves in early Spring to elderflowers, dandelions, blackberries, rosehips, sloes etc there is plenty to forage for during much of the year.  This year I even found a wild medlar tree although annoyingly all but a handful of the fruits were just out of reach.  (Note to self - go with stick to hook down branches next year).  Dandelion jam, wild garlic and leek risotto, rosehip syrup, hedgerow jelly are just some of the preserves and meals we have, thanks to our hedgerow harvest.

Now as my foraging tails off for a few months, for many of the local farmers and landowners it is just beginning.  Their hedgerow harvest is very different from mine because what they are after is the trees themselves. From late Autumn and through Winter you'll see people with chainsaws hacking back and apparently killing the hedges.  But they are not killing them, they are in fact harvesting them for firewood and regenerating them by coppicing.

Hedgerow Harvest - Firewood
Coppicing is the ancient technique of cutting back deciduous trees before they get too big.  The trees then sends up lots of vigorous shoots from the cut surface which grow into long straight poles.  In the past these were harvested to make broom poles, table legs and suchlike.  Now they are allowed to grow a bit bigger and used for firewood.   Not all the trees in any hedgerow are cut and some are left to grow into mature trees which in time will also be felled for firewood, although not before another will have been left to start growing to replace it.  All in all this is a very sustainable method of both cutting the hedgerows and getting material for heating.  It also has the advantage of letting more light into the hedge base which benefits a wide variety of plants and insects.

Coppiced hedge
Talking recently to an old local farmer as we looked across the valley, he commented how much he liked to see the hedgerows cut back.  He said with the countryside now opened up again it looked much more like it did 40 years ago.  I can't comment on that but for me I certainly enjoy the new vistas that appear where before trees had previously blocked the view.  I had best enjoy it whilst I can though as the trees coppice up with great speed and the views will soon be lost again!

If I have one axe to grind it is this - it is common practice to cut some trees at fence post height and use this as a living fence post with barbed wire attached to keep the cattle in.  To me it looks scruffy and as Simon knows to his cost, chainsawing into a piece of a wood with some wire hidden deep in the bark is both dangerous and blade blunting.  But it is what farmers do and saves them a lot in fencing costs (if not chainsaw blades!)

4 comments:

  1. we have begun hedging here too - and for us that means coppicing - and it is the wood we use to fuel the woodburner and esse... that and pallet wood!

    barbed wire free though

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  2. We laid our hedges in the first couple of years after we arrived so they are not quite ready to "harvest" yet. Like yours though I can assure you that they are barbed wire free too! As for pallets they are rather like gold dust round here and more useful as gates than firewood ;)

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  3. If you have ever walked through a bluebell wood there is a good chance you have walked through a coppiced wood. Coppicing brings a lot of sunlight to the woodland floor and bluebells love this!

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