You see, I have a proper hedgerow to look after. Actually, that's about the understatement of the year: I have about half a mile of hedgerow, as it forms the entire border of my very long and very thin garden.
Hedgerow is a proper recognised wildlife habitat: it's a priority habitat, in fact, protected under the Biodiversity Action Plan which describes them as 'particularly important for biodiversity conservation'. About 130 vulnerable species (so rabbits don't count) depend on them for their survival, including moths, birds, lichens and fungi.
Around here, there are miles and miles and miles of hedgerows. They are a wonderful, atmospheric feature of the landscape, turning lanes into green tunnels and patchworking the fields. They are, let's remember, essentially man-made: the farmers around here have formed them over centuries, with traditional management techniques which are still, essentially, unchanged (although these days they use tractors and flails, not billhooks). If farmers didn't manage hedgerows, they would disappear.
The OPAL project (it stands for Open Air Laboratories) is currently running a biodiversity survey which uses hedges to measure health of your local ecosystem. So I thought I'd put my own hedge to the test: you take a three-metre stretch of hedge and analyse the state of the hedge, its plant species, evidence of mammals living there, and any other creatures you find (mostly invertebrates like woodlice and snails).
I must admit mine was quite a cursory inspection: you're supposed to do these things in groups, and record it on a proper form, which I'd forgotten to print out. But in my randomly-chosen three-metre stretch here's what I found:
Hart's-tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium)
Herb robert (Geranium robertianum)
Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota)
Brambles (Rubus fruticosus)
Ivy (Hedera helix)
Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens)
Nettles (Urtica dioica)
and I also happen to know (because they're now starting to come up) there are also;
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)
Cuckoo pint (Arum maculatum)
Lichens, most of which I can't identify
Little yellow fungi, ditto
Bracket fungi on the rotten bits
Elder (of which the above is the oldest example I've yet found in the hedge)(Sambucus nigra)
Hazel (lots) (Corylus avellana)
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Alder (Alnus glutinosa)
It's also a sign of the health of my hedgerows that there is a good mix of dead wood and live: the live provides the fruits, berries etc while the dead wood is colonised by tunnelling insects and the like.
However the hazel is undeniably taking over: there is less blackthorn than I would like (though my poor prickled fingers don't agree) and I could do with some more elder too.
I didn't find much to look at since it was winter and very cold when I looked at my hedgerow, and most sensible things were tucked up warm and weren't remotely interested in being surveyed.
However I did find this rather fine evidence of rabbits (as if I needed any proof: they scatter to right and left as you walk down the garden here). I have also, since I've been here, seen voles, mice, fox footprints and hundreds and hundreds of birds: wrens, sparrows, bluetits, wagtails, blackbirds, thrushes, robins, and that's not counting the ones I couldn't identify. And buzzards, and crows, and seagulls. though I don't think they rely too heavily on the hedgerows for day-to-day sustenance.
You see? What a responsibility. But though I like wildlife as much as the next person, and have a sense of tradition and history, and a great love of the countryside: I must also garden. And my hedges are undeniably taking over my garden, to the point where there is little garden left. They are 8ft wide in places, for goodness' sake.
My next step? What would you do?