The Hedgerows of Kidlington; Dr Alison McDonald. 1992.
(from Kidlington & District Historical Society Newsletter)
Dr McDonald’s talk commenced by discussing different types of hedgerow – frequently varieties of hawthorn – and how they were laid. Hedge-laying is a complicated business and very labour-intensive. A properly laid hedge will not need doing again for 20 to 30 years and is virtually stock-proof. The hedge must be trimmed and the stems cut almost (but not quite) through near the base and bent neatly over at an angle to the ground but parallel to each other. Vertical stakes (often of hazel or blackthorn) are put in at regular intervals, with “heathering” – again often of hazel or blackthorn – entwined along the top.
It is often said the age of a hedge can be judged by the number of shrub species it contains – one for each hundred years. Hooper’s Hypothesis was that on average one additional species appeared every 100 years (not counting roses!). However modern farming methods often involve fertilizers being sprayed into the hedge base, which many species cannot survive because of the excessive nitrogen, and conversely some new “instant hedges” incorporating several different species from the outset have been grown, so that this hypothesis is no longer as reliable as in the past. There are different types of hawthorn: Midland hawthorn is often found in older hedgerows, and the more modern broader leaved hawthorn in younger hedges.
Old hedgerows are often found along parish boundaries, and along other boundaries or demarcations such as the edges of woods. Overgrown hedges may turn effectively into a linear spinney, and there may be double hedges stock-proofed on one side with a bank in between. That is an ideal reserve for nature conservation – butterflies, birds and mammals.
Field-work around the Canal showed a ditch adjacent to the Canal which actually marks the Parish boundary, and a zig-zag line of the hedgerows here, marked the edges of the furlongs. Dr McDonald described Littlemarsh Road (now Water Eaton Lane), with a line of pollarded willows leading off into a field (frequently a sign that the hedgerow was once adjacent to a ditch) and actually showing the line of the old Marsh Lane which was changed 100 years or so ago.
Field work conducted by Dr McDonald in Kidlington in 1991 highlighted elderberry growing as a hedgerow species around School Road area. Near Thornbury House nettles and goosegrass revealed the site of a dried-up field pond. Years ago, willows used to be grown to hold riverbanks together and this practice can be seen between King’s and Gosford Locks. Coppicing, is where small trees are cut back to ground level with the result that the young shoots can be eaten by animals and particularly by deer. Pollarding is carried out several feet above ground. Both management methods produce different products – beech, for example, was extensively coppiced in the Chilterns to produce chair and table legs. Elm and oak usually required as substantial mature trees would not be coppiced or pollarded.
Editors’ Note: Thanks to Nick Duval for sending us a “follow-up” to this article: “Hedgerows, Ditches and Canals”, which you can read here.