|Beetle Larvae tracks on wood, in case you were wondering.|
I took a detour early yesterday morning and stopped at Mottisfont to capture the light coming through the Plane trees and sparkling on the bull rushes. It was so fresh and clean and radiating goodness that I wished I could have stayed there longer. Mist was twisting off the surface of the Test as it wound its way lazily through the water meadows, and everything was encased in lacy drapings of fine crystal ice.
Alas (well, not really) a day of hedge laying lay ahead so I only dallied a few minutes. It was -6 when we started and it was f-f-f-freezing. I had five layers on and I didn't really lose any at all during the day. We warmed up with a bit of sawing, as you do, and the bonfire helped too, but mostly it was ch-ch-ch-chilly all day long.
The hedge was rather bedraggled and unloved it has to be said, but by the time we'd finished one section at least was looking much better. The equivalent of being given a good bath with lots of shampoo before being turned out by a tailor with impeccable tastes.
Hedge laying is satisfying work and the end result looks so much better than those poor hedges that have been subjected to vicious flailing from farm machinery. One of the benefits of laying a hedge is that you keep the nuts/ seeds/ berries in place for the birds. Flailing removes them entirely, and because some woodland species have a two-year growth for fruiting, a flailed hedge is often no good to wildlife the following year either. Flailed hedges will also eventually thin from the base becoming gappy, whereas a laid hedge becomes thicker from the bottom up which is better for stock control but also for wildlife. Hedges are so valuable to wildlife in so many ways (providing food, shelter, breeding spaces, safe passage across the landscape, navigation etc etc) that they really deserve good management.
When you lay a hedge the object is to pleach the stems of wood with an axe to the point where it will allow you to bend it down and weave it into its fellows (you can see the pleached poles in the pic above- they look a complete mess now but by spring will look a lot better). The wood must have the bark intact otherwise it will die, and it is a bit of an art to get it to the right thickness (or more accurately, thinness). Trees tell you when they're ready to move and they protest when they aren't, and we become reasonably well-versed in the language of wood as we worked with the hedge yesterday. Different parts of the country have different methods for laying a hedge, ours was the Southern one where you lay double stems in from different sides (does that make sense?).
We were watched by various Interested Birds all day. Most noticeably the Robin (of course) who kept up company by bobbing up and down in the branches above our heads, but also Greenfinches, Fieldfare, Goldfinches, Blackbirds and two Buzzards who kept circling above us gazing down to see what we were doing. There was also a Rather Fat Vole who kept waddling up and down the hedge line, doubtless fed up with all the stamping feet treading in his breakfast.
I whizzed home through the gloaming in time to see a patient, wolfed supper down and headed off again, this time to the Hampshire Dormouse Group's AGM. As the temperature plunged to -4, I got stuck behind the gritting lorry who proceeded to drive the entire length of the not-insubstantial Roman road between Stockbridge and Sutton Scotney at a speed of approximately 25 mph, showering my car with grit the whole way. After five minutes the windscreen was impossible to see through, and it was then that I realised the water had run out of the washers. There was one corner remaining that you could just about see out of, so I peered through that until I could pull into the garage. Then I couldn't remember how to open the bonnet, so chucked a bottle of water over the windscreen instead (praying it wouldn't freeze), zipped back into the car to get the wipers working and drove the remainder of the way with my fingers crossed.
The upshot of the meeting is that I am hoping to get some Dormouse boxes up in the hazel along the lane soon. We've an ancient woodland (or rather, ancient semi-natural) at the top of the lane and another at the bottom (fragments of) and the hedgerow connects the two (more or less) so I am hopeful we may get evidence of small gingery furry folk this summer. I've bought a trail cam which will also work in the dark so will think about putting that up near one of the boxes to monitor it. Exciting.
Right, must go- the kitchen is being surveyed at lunch time and the house is a tip but I don't have time to hoover everywhere so I've rather sluttishly only done the bits that show and will just hope he doesn't need to go anywhere else :o) The only problem with this is that between hoovering and putting the hoover away, T and P have shredded one of their Christmas Trees all over the floor :o( I may just leave it and remark gaily about what naughty dogs they are :o)
Hope you are all well?
ps- the Duck was lovely (1.5 hours and cooked to perfection) but a 2kg bird barely fed us both and at £8 I call that steep (and that was a half-price special offer!) so I doubt we'll do it again.