The historic hedges of Devon
Overall Devon has over 33,000 miles of hedges, with over three-quarters of hedgebanks thought to be of at least medieval origin (AD 1150 – 1450). The ‘Devon Bank’ typically consists of a large bank, with laid hedge shrubs on top and veteran hedge trees at wider intervals. Adjacent ditches and stone-faced revetting of the bank were also common practices to aid drainage and provide support. Hedges in Devon are an important part of the distinctive character of the County with medieval hedges in particular contributing to the irregular and sinuous network of small fields and deep lanes which define the rural landscape. Some of the oldest hedges in the County date from prehistory or incorporate archaeological earthworks. These include the middle Bronze Age Dartmoor ‘reaves’ (systems of long parallel boundary banks) which are around 4000 years old. Devon also contains many manor estate hedgebanks which are documented in Anglo-Saxon Charters and survive today as Parish Boundaries. Medieval hedgebanks were later constructed on open manorial ‘strip’ cultivation and retained the curvilinear form typically produced from turning oxen-drawn ploughs. These distinctive field boundaries were once widespread across Devon and often enclosed narrow, strip-fields. Parliamentary enclosure in the C18/19 led to new, regular hedgebanks being created to enclose open moorland. Historic features recorded on the Devon HER which are typically associated with hedges in Devon include former pack-horse routes and historic routeways, such as green lanes (hollow ways) and farm trackways. Archaeological sites may also incorporate hedges, for example, where ancient settlement boundaries survive. Field boundaries were often depicted on historic maps, including the Parish Tithe Maps of the 1830s & 40s which can be viewed, along with estate maps and historical documents at the Devon Heritage Centre.
Devon Hedge Group
The Devon Hedge Group (DHG) was formed in 1994 to promote the appreciation and conservation of hedges across the county and you can find out more about the history of the hedge in the Devon landscape, in (the history section of) the DHG Hedge pack.
Every year the Devon Hedge Group in association with FWAG South West (Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group) hold an annual Devon Hedge Week in the last week of October, with a large range of hedge-related events and activities on offer from hedge-laying to hedge crafts and historic hedge walks, the latter often attended by the county’s Historic Environment Service. In 2010 the Devon Hedge Group also launched a major new grant-aided project Green Lanes and Veins – New Life for Devon’s Hedges with the overall aim of increasing public understanding and appreciation of the county’s rich hedge heritage, through a range of innovative projects including hedge oral history recordings and a hedge photo competition.
How old are the hedges near you?
Take a look at Devon’s Historic Landscape Character mapping to see whether you are in an area of medieval boundaries based on open strip fields or perhaps you live in an area where enclosure of open land was much later, with very straight field boundaries. HLC also shows where orchards used to be, and indicates the how many hedgerows have been lost since the late nineteenth century. Websites are available where you can search old maps to see where the hedgerows used to be and how many have gone.
Traditional management of hedgerows is the best way to preserve their special character. Lack of maintenance often leads to erosion of the bank as the hedgerow trees grow out, and can eventually result in total loss of the bank, leaving just a row of mature trees. Management should where possible follow local traditions and use local materials. Devon Hedge Group have several information sheets relating to management of Devon hedges.
Best practice is to follow the alignments shown on late nineteenth century OS or earlier Tithe maps, avoiding the temptation to ‘iron out’ the curving lines or dog-legs which are typical of hedgebanks created in the medieval period. Ensure that boundaries are in keeping with local styles (size, materials, profile and facing of bank, and hedgerow species) and do not conflict with archaeologically sensitive areas.
The Historic Environment Service is consulted by Local Planning Authorities on applications to remove hedgerows under the Hedgerow Regulations 1997.
The criteria for determining what is an ‘important’ hedgerow under the Act include the following archaeological and historic considerations:
1. The hedgerow marks the boundary, or part of the boundary, of at least one historic parish or township; and for this purpose “historic” means existing before 1850.
2. The hedgerow incorporates an archaeological feature which is—
(a) included in the schedule of monuments compiled by the Secretary of State under section 1 (schedule of monuments) of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979; or
(b) recorded at the relevant date in a Sites and Monuments Record.
3. The hedgerow—
(a) is situated wholly or partly within an archaeological site included or recorded as mentioned in paragraph 2 or on land adjacent to and associated with such a site; and
(b) is associated with any monument or feature on that site.
4. The hedgerow—
(a) marks the boundary of a pre-1600 AD estate or manor recorded at the relevant date in a Sites and Monuments Record or in a document held at that date at a Record Office; or
(b) is visibly related to any building or other feature of such an estate or manor.
5. The hedgerow—
(a) is recorded in a document held at the relevant date at a Record Office as an integral part of a field system pre-dating the Inclosure Acts; or
(b) is part of, or visibly related to, any building or other feature associated with such a system, and that system—
(i) is substantially complete; or
(ii) is of a pattern which is recorded in a document prepared before the relevant date by a local planning authority, within the meaning of the 1990 Act, for the purposes of development control within the authority’s area, as a key landscape characteristic.
Many of the boundaries in Devon meet these criteria, contributing to the beautiful and intricate rural historic environment that is valued by visitors and residents alike.