Kirsty Brown – Conservation Project Assistant
The landscape and land managers in the North York Moors have benefited from grants totalling £64,400 through the 2014/15 round of our Traditional Boundary Scheme. The grant supported the restoration of hedgerows and drystone walls which aren’t being picked up through national agri-environment schemes. The work builds on that carried out in 2013/14 which was the first year of the Scheme. This year’s funding has enabled the restoration of over 2,600 square metres of traditional drystone wall and over 2,800 metres of hedge planting, coppicing and laying.
Hedge laying is traditionally carried out in the autumn and winter when the plants are dormant. Importantly this also avoids the bird nesting season. A rural craft which has been widely practised for hundreds of years across Europe, hedge laying has largely disappeared apart from in a handful of countries including the UK. It involves partially cutting through the upright stems of shrubs, bending them down and weaving them around stakes driven into the line of the hedge. There are around ten different regional styles of hedge laying within the UK including a ‘Yorkshire style’ which is traditionally very narrow, laid flattish and no more than three foot in height.
Hedge laying is obviously more skilled and time consuming than hedge cutting and coppicing, and has been dying out as a traditional craft. But the availability of targeted support funding and an awareness and appreciation of the benefits of hedgerows as wildlife corridors, habitats and food sources, as well as landscape features, is assisting the survival and re-burgeoning of hedgerow management skills like laying. And don’t think that drystone walls are second best to hedgerows in terms of biodiversity and wildlife. Walls can provide corridors for species movement and homes for a world of biodiversity from saxifrages to spiders to slow worms etc. Fortunately we have a number of skilled hedging contractors as well as drystone wallers working in the North York Moors and the wider area, maintaining boundary structures and practising their craft.
I would like to thank all the land managers and contractors who have undertaken work to restore and reinstate valuable boundaries in the North York Moors this year. Various dry stone walls in the National Park are believed to demarcate boundaries going back to the Iron Age or earlier, with some on the coast being noted from Viking times, while some of our hedgerows are remnants of ancient woodland margins. In addition to supporting our local farms and benefiting wildlife, up keeping our walls and hedges has economic elements too employing local contractors and making the area more appealing to visitors. The National Park Authority is keen therefore to do what it can to support the continuation of these traditional boundaries and despite considerable cuts to our core funding, we are still hoping to be able to offer the Traditional Boundary Scheme again in 2015/16 (keep a look out on our website).