Worksheet: Be a Hedge Historian!
Hedgerows and how to date them
Many hedges started life as living fences to contain livestock. Others would have marked the boundaries of a landowner’s estate, or parish boundaries.
When woodland was cleared a narrow strip was sometimes left, so some hedges are the last remains of very ancient woodland. Other hedges have been self-sown, for example birds roosting on a man-made fence might drop seeds down, which then grow into a hedgerow.
The hedge on Lover’s Lane (Springhead Lane) is believed to date from the 13th century. The path that runs along it has been used since medieval workers travelled from Ely to Turbutsey monastic farm, around 700 years ago.
The clues you need to age a hedge
A hedge will have started with one or two woody species, planted either by man or by natural seed dispersal. So the older the hedge, the more species of plant you will find there.
To get a rough idea of how old a hedge is you can use a formula called Hooper’s rule. Dr Max Hooper came up with the idea that you can find out the age of a hedge by counting the number of woody plants in a 30-yard (27 metre) stretch and multiplying it by 110 years.
This formula only works if you have some idea already about the age of the hedge, from local information, as some hedges have been planted with lots of different species
How to collect your data
Find a long run of hedge and measure 27 metres (for a rough estimate, take a stride to be just less than a metre). Count how many woody species of plant that you find. Once you’re happy that you’ve found as many as you can, then you can do your calculation (number of plants x 110)
If you’re not familiar with common hedgerow plants, there is a handy online guide from CPRE here: A Little Rough Guide Around the Hedges.
This printable from the Woodland Trust is also very helpful in identifying common tree and shrub leaves, and contains all of the common woody plants listed below.
Common woody plants in hedgerow:
- Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
- Hazel (Coryllus avellana)
- Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)
- Field maple (Acer campestre)
- Oak (Quercus)
- Elm (Ulmus)
- Rowan (Sorbus Acuparia)
If you want to investigate more about hedgerows - their history, the wildlife that inhabits them and the way that conservation projects are helping to preserve this unique habitat, then here are some helpful links.
http://www.hedgelink.org.uk - a hub for different bodies interested in hedgerows, their history, maintenance and conservation. This site includes a teaching and learning resource, with online games and instructions on how to carry out a children’s hedge survey.
http://nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/british-natural-history/british-habitats/hedgerow/index.html - Natural History Museum information on hedges
http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/habitats/hedge - Includes video clips about hedgerow history
http://www.leics.gov.uk/hedgerow.pdf - Leicestershire county council devised printable hedge survey, with plant identifier (not area specific).
http://www.wildlifewatch.org.uk - The Wildlife Trust’s website for children, which has information on all aspects of British wildlife, with games, printables and other activities for children of different ages.
http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/learn/children-and-families/ - The woodland trust’s site has a wealth of information about trees, plants and wildlife, with lots of different printable activities.