Food & Farming blog: Our hedge fund

John ChannonJohn Channon is Estate Manager at Dartington. His Food & Farming blogs provide updates and insight into how Dartington uses its land to meet our commitments to community projects and sustainable farming.

John joined Dartington in 2009, having previously spent over 20 years working with the National Trust as a Property Manager in Devon.

A number of you may have noticed that we have started to undertake some tree surgery and felling along various boundaries across the estate and I thought that it might be timely to explain what we are doing and why.

Last year we were fortunate enough to have an application to Natural England accepted, to enter one of their last Environmental Stewardship schemes.

In basic terms this is a land management scheme that provides funding to farmers and other land managers in England to deliver effective environmental management on their land.

hedgehogThere are 3 levels to the scheme, Entry Level Stewardship (ELS), Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS ).

We have entered into an HLS scheme, which puts the emphasis on enhanced environmental benefits and can also target vulnerable or endangered species. At Dartington, we are hoping to improve the habitat for two key species, being Cirl Buntings and Greater Horseshoe Bats, but there will be wider benefits for all forms of wildlife across the core estate.

Each 10-year scheme usually divides itself into two themes, the first relating to annual management and the second to capital improvements. Also, it is typical for the landowner to undertake the projects and for the farmer to undertake the management.

This will be the case at Dartington, where our new farming tenant will create wildflower strips alongside arable fields and revert some fields from arable back to pasture.

In terms of what Dartington has undertaken to do, we will be responsible for delivering a wide range of projects over a two year period, ranging from the restoration of the Deer Park Wall, to managing scrub and restoring hedgerows. It is the latter that we have made a start on this week.

With advice from Natural England, we identified a number of hedges across the estate which had either been neglected or overgrown for one reason or another and were candidates for restoration.

Our first action is to see how much, if any part of the hedge in question can be salvaged. Unfortunately many of them are beyond being able to be cut and laid and others (often due to poor fencing, or simply being left for too long) are very gappy at the base, which limits both their nature conservation benefit and their ability to contain livestock.

“What we are aiming to achieve is the establishment of a well-managed network of hedgerows that can not only provide a natural barrier against stock, but also provide both a food source and protection for wildlife”

To compound the problem, on occasion too many plants in a hedge have been allowed to grow into trees, which in turn then shades out the remaining hedgerow below.

In instances such as this, the decision has been made to select some standards (semi-mature trees) in each hedge and then fell the remainder. Any poorly formed or overgrown shrubs are also taken down to ground level.

The majority of these will sprout shoots next spring, but over the coming winter months we will fill any gaps with new plants and then erect a stockproof fence on either side of the new hedge to protect it.

One other action which we will try to complete, but which is rarely undertaken, is that of ‘casting-up’. Over the years, many hedges lose a fair proportion of the soil in which the plants grow to erosion – caused through natural, animal or man-made forces. Casting-up involves taking the soil from the base of the bank and placing back on top (compacting it wherever possible).

Overall, what we are aiming to achieve is the establishment of a well-managed network of hedgerows that can not only provide a natural barrier against stock, but also provide both a food source and protection for wildlife. Good thick hedges are seen as excellent nesting sites by birds and provide ‘wildlife corridors’ for smaller mammals.




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