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Holy Hedge of Ashwell

In the week leading up to the 17th November 2012 in a village effort we planted the Holy Hedge of Ashwell running next to the footpath in Hodwell. We hope that in the future this will replace the old fence on the graveyard. Children from Ashwell School helped planting the hedge during the week and on the Saturday the planting was completed by members of St.Mary's congregation. Lunch was provided in the form of yummy hot soups by the Social Committee.

Species include a majority of the traditional English hedge plant, Hawthorn, together with four other native ones which do well on local soils. They all carry flowers and fruits, and one is evergreen. All four provide shelter and food for a range of wildlife.

HAWTHORN ( Crataegus monogyma ) " Whitethorn" or "Quickthorn " or "Maytree"

Haw , the berry, was once the name for an enclosed piece of ground. White, refers to the blossom colour, though some may be pink. Quick, used to mean living , instead of the dead branches which were previously used as boundaries. May, refers to the month when it flowers.

As a hedge plant Hawthorn provides an impenetrable barrier to livestock, especially once the hedge has been layed. It does not spread out by suckers as much as Blackthorn (Sloe). Although previously used for hundreds of years, two hundred thousand miles of thorn hedges were planted in this country after the parliamentary enclosures in the 18 th and 19 th centuries.

Hawthorn is one of the most wildlife-friendly of hedge and tree plants, and provides food for over 150 insect species including Shield bugs, Earwigs, Cockchafers etc, and thereby to much other life, which feeds on them . The blossom is a source of nectar for Bees, for Hoverflies and others , while the leaves host various larvae. Haws are taken as food by Blackbirds and other thrushes, especially immigrant Redwings and Fieldfares in winter, and also by Finches. A thick hedge provides roosting shelter for Wrens and Robins, and hibernating sites for Butterfly pupae and dormant Lacewings and Ladybirds.

Hawthorn can grow into sizeable trees, it's dense wood was favoured for wood-engravers' blocks, also for mallet heads.

(( There is a lot of legend and custom associated with Hawthorn to look up in book or on web ! ))

PLUM CHERRY ( Prunus cerasifera ) or Cherry Plum .

A vigorous shrub which has white flowers opening on bare wood as early as February, just before it's shiny green leaves, and well before Blackthorn. Without frost damage, the round plum-like fruits develop, and mature to red or yellow. Bullace, which is similar, arose from ancient natural crosses and is found in naturalised old hedges in this area.

Early blossom provides a brief source of nectar for some insects, and the fruit is useful later for several birds. This shrub can grow tall and shade other plants, provided it is managed there will be good nest sites for Thrushes, but if let go, just for Wood Pigeons.

WAYFARING TREE ( Vibernum lantana )

The name probably arose from linguistic error, Vibernum's French name Viorne being mistaken by a herbalist in the 1600's as coming from the Latin Via (road). It however, no- more grows along roadway edges than several other species. ( neither does it really grow into a tree, though bushes can reach 20 feet ! )

Wayfaring trees thrive on chalk or limestone soils in the southern half of Britain, and can spread by suckers. Creamy-white flower umbels open in May or June. Berries, red at first, turn black in late summer. Before winter the broad leaves change to shades of red. New buds are protected by hairy felt in winter. Leaves are covered in fine hairs to protect against water loss on dry soils.

Supple young stems of this shrub were used as "withies" to tie up bundles of brush wood into faggots. They were also used as "switches" to drive cattle.

WILD PRIVET ( Ligustrum vulgare ) Origin of name unknown .

Evergreen, widely found on calcareous soils. Shiny leaves, rather more pointed than on Garden Privet ( L ovalifolium ) which is a Japanese species.

Panicles of ivory-white flowers, which have a sweetish but fishy scent, give rise to bunches of berries, green at first, later a shiny black. ( They may at times be poisonous )

Foliage provides the main food for larvae of the Privet Hawkmoth . Evergreen winter shelter is important for a range of insects. Flowers give nectar early in the year and berries are eaten by mammals and birds in late autumn.

HAZEL (Corylus avellana) or Lambs' Tails, after the catkins .

A small deciduous broad-leaved tree which grows best in the open or part shade and soon forms a large bush. It tends to do it's own thing in a trimmed hedge. It carries male catkins (from autumn), and female ones in spring. Through summer Hazel nuts develop, other names for these are cobs, filberts, and crack-nuts, where they have been variously bred and planted for orchards, especially in Kent. Birds, squirrels and mice take nuts, to store by hiding / burying.

A traditional coppicing tree, which even if not regularly cut, produces numerous straight shoots from the base. One of the first trees to re-colonise Britain after the last ice age. Hazel nuts being oil and protein rich, were probably a very important source of winter food for early people. Coppicing Hazel woodland began about 4000 years ago, and can still be seen in Hatfield Forest. The basic coppice product is "wattle", split bendy canes woven into a simple warp and weft lattice. These were used for fencing livestock and as the foundation on which wattle and daub walls were built. Hazel is still used to peg down thatch, and for poles and top-binding in hedge laying. It is also used for bean poles, walking sticks, and for many centuries a forked Hazel rod has been chosen for water divining.