Hedges- An Invaluable Part of Our ‘Forestry’

The 1st of March is the start of the hedge cutting season. Hedge cutting is allegedly illegal from then to the end of August but this does not deter some people and this is disastrous for our birds, insects and small mammals.

Here is a short article about the value of our hedges and more environmentally sound ways to grow and manage them adapted from some articles originally written for the IWT

 

Hedgerows may be a habitat that was originally planted by humans but then we are part of nature too and these habitats serve many valuable purposes. They act as windbreaks, help with land drainage and healthy water tables, and provide food and shelter for many small mammals, birds and insects. Hedgerows also act as ‘highways’ for these creatures to travel along and as reservoirs for many native species. Hedges are like miniature woodlands and within a healthy hedge there are several layers of growth as there are in a woodland. Our hedges are especially important here, due to the low level of forestation on this island.

 

Traditionally hedges were maintained by laying[1] but sadly today this art is rarely practiced. It is good to see that there are people beginning to re-introduce this craft which, although labour intensive, makes for a far healthier hedge and one that looks much more pleasing. Hedges need good care. According to the website of the Hedge laying Association of Ireland  (http://www.hedgelaying.ie) many of our hedges were planted over 100 years ago.

Within a healthy hedgerow there may be several layers of growth. There may be some mature trees of our native species such as Oak, Ash, Holly, Wych Elm, Crab Apple, Wild Cherry, Bird Cherry, Whitebeam, Willow and Rowan. Some of these species do well when managed as hedging, others do not. The ones that fare particularly well include many of our native shrubs; Holly, Hawthorn, Guelder Rose, Wild Roses, Blackthorn, Gorse, Willow and native Privet. Elder and Spindle also occur in hedges. In some areas there will be a predominance of naturalized species such as the Fuschia and Escallonia.  It is good to recognize that some naturalized species integrate well and enrich the hedge, providing food for our fauna and insect life. Others do not and are less desirable such as the Rhododendrons.

Woven through a healthy hedge there will be some of our native climbers: Wild Roses, Honeysuckles, Brambles, Field Bindweed and Ivy, as well as naturalized climbers like Traveller’s Joy (wild Clematis) and Large Bindweed. It is worth pointing out that Ivy is a very valuable food plant for bees in the autumn and is the overwintering habitat of some of our native caterpillars.

At the foot of a hedge there can be a great diversity of some of our native wild flowers such as Ground Ivy, Primrose, Violets, Bluebells, Forget-Me-Nots, Wild Strawberries, Vetches, Cow Parsley, Foxgloves, Red Campion, Chickweeds, Speedwells and maybe a few early Purple Orchids.

These are just some of the plants that will grow in a hedgerow. Often other woodland plants, meadow plants or wasteland plants may join the ecosystem. There may be garden escapes and naturalised species such as Butterbur, Montbretia, Rosebay Willowherb, Wallflowers, Oxalis, Buddleia, Alexanders, Three Cornered Leek, Daffodils or, less popularly, Japanese Knotweed.

Hedgerows can be seen as part of our woodlands and fundamentally important with our low level of woodland cover. They are a rich source of all sorts of fruits and berries that can be used in forage food recipes, hedgerow wines and herbal medicines. Some of the wild flowers such as Ground Ivy used to be used to brew ale before Hops became the main herb used in beer and many of them are delicious wild greens. Many of the plants have delightful folklore attached to them.

A well-managed hedgerow is a rich ecosystem. It is really worthwhile to plant a native hedgerow if you have space for one as it will attract more birds and insects than a non-native hedge. It is really worthwhile reminding farmers and growers that hedges should not be cut during the nesting season (1st March – 31st August) to protect the dwindling numbers of our wonderful birds.

There are some good videos on the importance of hedgerow habitats at http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/habitats/hedge

To help to identify the plant species in our hedges and other habitats you might be exploring you can take a look at this website http://www.irishwildflowers.ie/ for some good photos.

Hedgerow Management

People may think that good hedgerow management takes a lot of time and costs a lot, but managing a hedge well does not have to take a lot of either. A well managed hedge provides such a  rich habitat for so many species of birds, small mammals, insects and plants and really is a great part of the country landscape (and the urban one too).

One of the best ways of managing a hedge is by hedgelaying but this does take time in the inital stages and requires skill. However, there are other ways of managing hedges that look better than the ‘short back and sides’ approach and take less time.

The hedge as a habitat is not just a line of shrubs. It is great to look at hedges as a network and join up any gaps between hedges by plantng in new ones.  As well as the shrubs and trees the hedge habitat includes any mature trees, the margin and any ditches running along the hedge line. The hedgerow is made up of individual plants and it is important that if gaps occur in the hedge network due to one plant gettng sick or reaching end of its natural lifespan that replanting is done .  Good hedgerow management will tend to help plants remain healthy and live long and prosper.

If planting new hedges  make sure that the species of shrub chosen are appropriate to the location and that they are native species that support other wildlife species.

Alternatively, a hedge may be rejuvenated by laying or coppicing (cutting down to near ground level).

At first a  newly planted hedge needs to be trimmed every year for the first 5 years to ensure a good dense structure, especially at the base of the hedge. A wide, thick hedge  provides more shelter for birds and animals so aim for the hedge to be at least 1.5  metres thick.   Any cutting that is done should not be carried out during the nesting season – from 1st March to 31st August.

After this the hedge only needs trimming every 3 or more years. One approach is to just trim one side or the top every couple of years in rotation. This allows the fruiting shrubs and trees (for example hawthorn, sloe, wild rose) to produce berries which helps with rejuvenation. If there are mature trees in the hedge then leave these tall.   Over this period the hedge is allowed to gain height and width and this is continued for about 20 years.

Once the hedge starts having gaps at the base it should be left to grow for a number of years before rejuvenating and starting the cycle again..

On a farm it is ideal to plan a range of hedge heights to provide habitats for a wide variety of birds species..

As well as considering the hedge itself allow some outgrowths of plants such as rose, bramble and elm to encourage various butterflies and small mammals. Leave a good margin at the base of the hedge to allow thick grass growth and a good diversity of native flowers; these look beautiful and provide food for bees, butterflies and small birds.

If there are ditches or water channels running by the hedge then ensure that they are cleaned out every 5 years and overhanging branches are trimmed back. Also,  do not spread or spray fertilsers and pesticides  any nearer than 2 metres to ditches and hedge bases.

If hedges are well managed it does not take a lot of time and the increase in diversity of birds, butterflies, moths, other species and flower species is quite phenomenal over a few years.

The second link below is to a pdf giving great detail and ideas about how to manage hedges well and economically.

Some useful links:

http://www.hedgelink.org.uk/hedgelink/hedgerow-management.htm

http://www.hedgelink.org.uk/documents/Complete%20Good%20Hedge%20Management%20Guide%20Leaflet.pdf

www.wildlifetrust.org.uk/urban/ecorecord/bap/html/hedges.htm

 

[1] Hedge laying is the art of cutting hedgerow tree trunks partly through near ground level so that they will bend without breaking and will continue to grow. The laid stems are arranged to form a stock proof barrier. New growth comes from the cut stump rejuvenating the hedge and thickening up the base.

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Meitheal Workdays at Veriditas Hibernica

 

We regularly hold meitheal workdays here for those who would like to support our work, find out more about what we do and meet like minded people whilst having fun and learning more about wild gardening, nature resonance, herb lore and community. Here are the dates for the next 9 months.
If you would like to come along just message nearer the time. We provide a vegetarian lunch and refreshments and participants often go home with a few plants or samples of herbs or things we have made:)

 

MEITHEAL WORKDAYS FOR VERIDITAS HIBERNICA IN COACHFORD

2019

January 21st

February 4thand 25th

April 1stand 8th

May 13thand 27th

June 10th

SMUDGE SMOKE AND FUMIGATION

SMUDGE SMOKE AND FUMIGATION

In this part of the world we mislaid some of our traditions (we did not lose them, we just forgot where we put them) and so we have looked to our neighbours in other parts of the world to remind us of them. This is very valuable; as Caitlin Matthews says when our fires go out we ask our neighbours for some embers to relight them but then we keep them going rather than repeatedly going back for more of their embers.

Much of the way in which smudging and smoking is practiced in this part of the world now is borrowed from the Native American traditions and the most widely used plant at present tends to be white sage or sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata/ ludovciana) which is native to Northern America. In this tradition smudging sticks and herbs were never sold but rather given as gifts and yet most of the white sage we use in this part of the world does not respect this part of their tradition and therefore it seems more appropriate to look to our own plants, rather than encourage the appropriation and disrespect of commercialising the American tradition.

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RE-ESTABLISHING GOOD VAGAL TONE AND BALANCE WITH HERBS

RE-ESTABLISHING GOOD VAGAL TONE AND BALANCE WITH HERBS

RE-ESTABLISHING GOOD VAGAL TONE AND BALANCE WITH HERBS

The vagus nerve was for a while thought of as ‘just one of the cranial nerves’. Its very name implies it is a wandering vagabond of a nerve, meandering around the body to nearly everywhere (not the adrenals though) and doing this in a vague manner. It is one of the cranial nerves but it is also a huge part of the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic pathways of our autonomic nervous system. The nerve starts in the brainstem, just behind the ears and travels in multiple branches that diverge from two thick stems rooted in the cerebellum and brainstem, down each side of the neck across the chest and down into the lowest reaches of the abdomen. It connects from the brain to the lungs, the heart, the spleen the guts, the kidneys and the reproductive organs amongst other places. It also networks with the nerves involved in speech, facial expression, eye contact and much more. It receives stimulation from a lot of these organs and the information it receives can be very influential on whether we feel relaxed, confident, capable and energetic (toned) or stressed and alarmed. It conveys information from the different centres back to the brain to get a consensual decision. Stress, inflammation, trauma, or tension in any region can cause an overall lack of balance or tone or lead to some quite unusual symptoms that are often dismissed as being hypochondria or psychosomatic, or all in the head. The vagus nerve can produce quite pronounced symptoms without the presence of organic disease process but these can be extremely debilitating to people. This happens when the parasympathetic activation of the vagus nerve does not kick in to balance out sympathetic response to adrenaline and cortisol by releasing neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and GABA to slow us down. The symptoms of loss of vagal tone can be many and varied and may range from:

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FERMENTATION EXPERIMENTS- MEADS, METHEGLINS AND KIMCHI OR  LACTO-FERMENTED VEGETABLES

FERMENTATION EXPERIMENTS- MEADS, METHEGLINS AND KIMCHI OR LACTO-FERMENTED VEGETABLES

For our first attempt at mead (or more properly metheglin, since mead is usually just made with honey according to some people whilst metheglins use herbal infusions and honey) we made a strong infusion of meadowsweet flowers and left it sitting overnight. The next day we strained it off and added 1 part honey to 5 parts infusion in a large pyrex bowl; we have recently discovered the benefits of doing small R&D runs. We decided to see if it would ferment with the wild yeasts on the flowers and in the atmosphere. So we covered the bowl with muslin and just stirred it every day. For the first 3 days it did not look too promising but one the 4th day it started bubbling nicely. We decided just to leave it for 8 days as we were not interested in a high alcohol content. After 8 days we decanted it off into bottles which we put in the fridge maturing and found we had an excellent crop of starter yeast in the bottom of the bowl. Those who have sampled it have pronounced the flavor excellent. It has a nice effervescence and the taste is a lovely combination of meadowsweet and honey; a bit on the sweet side for me. It should be great medicine for the stomach and gut flora and be full of B vitamins as a live ferment.

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Exciting new Workshops..

Exciting new Workshops..

Nature Whispering brings us deep into the powerful Earth Medicine we need to BE the evolutionary shift. Become authentically indigenous and learn how to communicate with Nature Beings, perceiving accurately what they are saying and share the Sacred Earth healing we have to offer each other.

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ADVENTURES IN SEED SAVING AT MAGOURNEY

ADVENTURES IN SEED SAVING AT MAGOURNEY

SEED SAVING; Increasing biodiversity, restoring our native species populations, herb and plant sovereignty

A few years ago someone in the local gardening group suggested that we get someone to give a workshop on how to save seeds. I think in the end some people travelled down to Brown Envelop Seeds, a great company that sells a range of vegetable and herbs seeds that they have grown and saved themselves (see the Veriditas Hibernica resources section for a link to their website).

I decided just to give it a go and see how many plants we could save seeds from to share with the students and other interested people and how difficult it would be to do this.

The last two summers have been great for getting good yields of seeds. What we discovered was that seed saving is not difficult. One difficulties here can be high humidity or preciptation levels so that one has to watch out for the ideal harvest day and optimum seed maturity and hope that they coincide. If they do not I discovered that one can harvest the mature seed and blot them with kitchen paper and allow to dry gradually for storage.

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Herbal Heritage

Herbal Heritage

“It is our task to imprint this temporary, perishable earth into ourselves so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its essence can rise again ‘invisibly’ inside us.”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Did you know that:

  • As well as being a food, a medicine and a plant fertiliser nettles have also be used to spin the finest linen?
  • As well as producing delicious fruit blackberries are also used medicinally and that the leaves contain more antioxidants than green tea?
  • Dandelion leaves can be used in salads, are a potassium supplement, a diuretic and also a tonic to the liver, whilst the roots can be steamed or stir fried as a vegetable, used for a liver cleanse or roasted as a coffee substitute?
  • The elder tree produces flowers that can be used for food and medicine, it produces berries that can be eaten but which have also been shown to as effective for colds and flus as Echinacea is? As well as being effective they can be harvested sustainably; because the berries are being harvested the plant is not destroyed and can continue to provide food for bees and insects and birds and to provide a habitat for several species, including badgers who often build their dens near elder trees. As a native species it is particularly important for supporting native wildlife.

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