(fields are protected by barriers of hedges by keeping the wind from eroding (blowing away) valuable top soil)

Hedgerows have quite a history in England

The Anglo-Saxon word for enclosure was haeg or gehaeg and this is were we get the word "hedge". It is believed that the Romans may have first planted hedges in Britain but most of the few ancient hedges date from Saxon times, making some of them 1000 years old.

The Saxons organized "strip farming" in which each community of people would have a field which was divided into strips separated by grass verges. Each strip was one furrow long (one furlong or 201 meters).

People were given a number of strips to farm by the lord of the manor. This system changed in the late Middle Ages when landlords wanted to put boundaries around their property, so they enclosed their land with walls or hedges. Enclosure Acts in the 18th and 19th centuries allowed farmers to put more hedges round their fields and most of Britain’s 300,000 miles or so of hedges date from this time.

Plants that normally exist in English hedges

The most common hedgerow plant is the hawthorn and this has always been popular for countryside hedges because it has tough thorny branches and thick growth, which is ideal for preventing cattle from escaping through them.

Most hedgerow trees are deciduous; that is, they lose their leaves every autumn, except for holly. Some species have been planted deliberately but others have established themselves over the years.

Most hedges have a bank or strip of grassland underneath them where many other plants grow. Some are climbers such as bramble, honeysuckle, and ivy.

Over 200 species of non-climbers grow in the hedgerows including ferns and flowering plants; such as, primroses, foxgloves, garlic mustard, red campion, herb rocket, stitchwort, and cow parsley. The numbers and species depend on the age of the hedge, its location and how it is managed.

Ages of hedges can be calculated to be in the hundreds of years

Some hedges date back many hundreds of years. The only certain way of dating a hedge is to find a reference to it in some historical records.

One new species establishes itself about every 100 years, so a hedge with three species of plants is calculated to be about 300 years old.

Animals in hedges

Many animals have adapted themselves to living in hedges, depending on each other and on the hedgerow plants. As the woodlands have decreased over the years, the animals in them have become more adapted for living in and around hedges. Almost all groups of animals may be found in a hedge, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and many invertebrates.

Apart from acting as boundaries and keeping animals inside the fields, the hedgerow is an important habitat for a wide variety of animals and plants.

As the woodlands have been destroyed over the years, the wildlife in them has become adapted to living in the hedgerows. Animals such as foxes and badgers use hedges as "roadways" for getting from one wood to another because wild animals do not like crossing open fields.

If fields are unprotected by a barrier of hedges, the wind can erode (blow away) the valuable top soil and this has proven to be a problem in East Anglia where large prairie-like fields have been created by removing hedges.

—Compiled and based on information found in
the website Britain's Disappearing Habitats:
Environmental Facts, Young People's Trust for the Environment.