Bashing George Monbiot for his absurd anti-agricultural stance is a mug’s game in the hands of almost anyone other than Chris Smaje.1 So I skipped quickly past that bit in an otherwise worthwhile piece on the past history and current state of hedges in Britain. There is, apparently, an upsurge in proper hedges, with new ones being planted and old ones being more thoughtfully maintained. That is surprisingly good news. Not so surprising is this:

“While there is a glut of ecologists happy to charge farmers for advice on their hedgerows — the same cannot be said for those who actually do the hard graft.”

The capital that has replaced labour on so many farms is the fundamental reason, of course. Time was when laying hedges was one of the jobs carried out in winter not only because that was when the hedge was easiest to get to grips with but also because it kept farm hands busy at a time of year when there wasn’t that much else for them to do. The disaster of the modern, flailed hedge is a direct result of having a tractor but no farm hands.

The author of the article is a professional hedgelayer with a book that is currently almost fully crowdfunded. Maybe he writes in the summer, when there’s no hedgelaying to be done, or during the long winter nights. Either way, I do wonder what the going rate is to maintain a decent hedge, or to bring a wrecked hedge back from the brink. I’m guessing that the work, so vital to the living hedges that stitch the countryside together is, like all agricultural labour, severely undervalued.

And yet, money is not the (only) point.

Not so long ago I reflected on some of this myself, as I dredged up some positive memories from 30 years ago. Among them, this:

There’s not much more satisfying at the end of the day than looking over what was an untidy, straggly hedge riddled with gaps and seeing instead a line of bent saplings, order from chaos, and knowing that come the spring buds will break and a functional hedge will be reborn. Meanwhile, the trimmings crackle and pop in a bonfire and as the sun sets a cup of tea around the flying sparks becomes a moment for silent reflection and camaraderie.

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