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Hedgerows are long , thin, organized rows of plants, mostly woody shrubs, which are used to divide areas of land. Hedgerows have been used especially in Europe for many centuries, and some are up to 700 years old. They have become important homes to many species of wildlife and are recognized, at least by some, as valuable working artifacts.
Woody plants used for hedgerows include holly, oleander, privet, and hawthorn. The number of woody plants found in a 30-yard stretch of hedgerow is roughly equivalent to its age in centuries. The exact composition of the hedgerows varies according to specific local conditions, as does their method of construction. They also represent effective barriers to most forms of wind erosion.
Where land ownership is divided into small lots, hedgerows may represent problems for subsequent land planning, such as road planning. Hedgerows have been used as evidence of boundaries for land ownership and so can be taken as legal proof. Careful examination of hedgerows in many parts of Britain reveals that many are constructed on the basis of multiples of 22 yards (approximately 20 meters), which is a traditional measurement known as a chain.
Many farmers have in recent years found that hedgerows occupy too much of a proportion of their land and also hinder their ability to use tractors or other large machinery. Dividing land into small parcels may also appear to be inefficient in terms of economies of scale. However, due to to the importance of hedgerows as objects, they are protected in Britain by the 1997 Hedgerow Regulations, which aim to maintain in their current form those hedgerows that are not wholly contained within a domestic garden. These regulations are made more complex by the provisions for distinguishing between trimming and pruning hedgerows for maintenance versus reducing them in scope. Even so, economic pressure on hedgerows means that they are still disappearing gradually, so conservationists have been conducting research to determine other benefits that can be added to the cost-benefit analysis of their preservation. These include the fact that hedgerows shelter some beetles and insects that assist in pest control; that they are comparatively difficult to vandalize or to damage; their ability to support rabbits, pheasants and other creatures that may be hunted; and their provision of shade for livestock.
- Peter Ashley, Pastoral Peculiars: Curiosities in the Countryside (English Heritage, 2005);
- Gerry Barnes and Tom Williamson, Hedgerow History: Ecology, History, and Landscape Character (Windgather Press, 2006).