Over twenty five farmers and land owners joined us for an afternoon event looking at hedgerow management kindly hosted by Mr and Mrs Eveleigh at West Ilkerton Farm. The event, delivered as part of the Exmoor Coastal Streams Facilitation Fund, built on the success of recent events focussing on silvopasture and grazing management. It also provided a timely opportunity to discuss hedgerows within the context of the climate emergency both through their potential to sequester carbon and provision of a renewable fuel source. Ross Dickinson, a farmer and hedgerow expert, spoke about the hedgerow wood fuel enterprise he has set up on his farm, providing the group with an overview of the costs involved and potential returns. Getting a first hand insight into how Ross changed his perception of hedgerows from a necessary and often burdensome cost to a potentially profitable on-farm resource was fascinating and the group appreciated his honesty in regard to the successes and challenges in setting up a new enterprise.

We were at last blessed with some dry and sunny weather which allowed us to spend a good amount of time out in the field looking at the hedgerows around West Ilkerton and enjoying the fine views out across the moor. It was really useful to see a range of hedges at different ages since rejuvenation, with many having been laid only this last season. There has been growing interest into the use of tree shears for hedgerow management and we were fortunate to have two different types demonstrating their capabilities. They provide a fast, efficient and safe method for coppicing operations and particularly so for the high banked, beech dominated hedges common throughout this part of Exmoor. Martin Burnett was removing larger poles and stems from the hedge to enable follow-on laying with a chainsaw. Geoff Tucker of GRT Countryside Care was using his articulating shear to manage overhanging limbs and side branches, demonstrating the flexibility for these tools to safely undertake tree surgery and higher canopy works. Another advantage is the fact that the shears can quickly and neatly pile all material for processing away from the working area – so less time fighting with brambles and brash in the hedge! The perennial issue of how to deal with the brash material was discussed and as yet there is very little market to make it economically viable to collect, store and transport. Conversations were had around the potential of larger brash balers and bundlers but there are challenges regarding logistics and scale to overcome before this becomes more viable. It is hoped that the event may spur on further discussions around partnerships and collectives on Exmoor to look at processing the material.  

FWAG SW colleagues were able to have separate conversations with small groups whilst out on the walk about the environmental benefits of more relaxed cutting regimes and potential alternatives to annual flailing. Allowing hedges to grow larger where appropriate and cutting on longer rotations can improve the habitat value of these features both in terms of shelter but also forage provision for birds and invertebrates. The landscape connectivity functions of hedgerows was also discussed alongside the cultural and historical significance of these features within a protected landscape such as Exmoor National Park.

Back to the barn just in time for tea and a slice of homemade cake (to cap a wonderful lunch earlier) gave us the chance to outline the current grants and support available for hedgerow management under Countryside Stewardship. If you would like more information on the CS Hedgerows and Boundary Grant please get in touch with your local FWAG SW adviser.

Thank you to all who attended the event and to those who contributed.