Counting the centuries

Look… at Coleshed we are passionate advocates for the appreciation of Britain’s wonderful countryside and for protecting this most delicate of assets. The landscape of Britain is often held up as unique and special – the amazing patchwork of meadow, heath, marsh and woodland etc etc, creates endless variety and detail.

The fact that planning policy has long protected the green belt has meant that ribbon development has not blighted Britain in the way that it has affected other countries (take the USA as an example). Long may this continue for the benefit of our children and our children’s children.

Anyway anyway anyway … today …. here we are; me and el-doggio, walking down a little lane, avoiding the sheep poo, and thinking about what a wonderful verdant idyll we have on our little island.
I came to thinking about Hooper’s Rule.
The little lane you see, is flanked by high banks and hedges typical of Devon. I happens to know that the farm house at the end dates from the 1500’s and it strikes me that the course of the lane will almost certainly date from that time. Over the centuries the lane itself has become ‘sunken’ and the banks that flank it have got higher, topped with hedges.IMG_6730Hooper’s rule essentially states that the number of species making up the hedgerow (counted in a standardised way) is approximately equal to the age of the hedge on centuries.

So we are walking down our ancient looking lane, flanked by ancient looking hedges, heading towards a very old farmhouse…. can this really work?

A standard section to survey is 30 yards (He never bothered with metric – it would equate to a handy 27.4 metres). We do a standard section…. so what do we find?

Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) Field Maple (Acer campestre), Cherry (Prunus avium), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Hazel (Corylus avellana). That’s five species. That’s five centuries, that takes us back to the year 1617, and the house dates from the late 1500’s. That’s a pretty good match!

Further on there are other hedgerow species, Beech (Fagus sylvatica), Holly (Ilex europea) and Briar (Rosa arvensis); but these lie outside of my 30yard section, so I am hesitant to add one or more in – even if it did take us back to 1517!!

Hooper’s rule only allows for certain species to be included for hedge dating. Undershrubs (e.g. bramble) and woody climbers (e.g. ivy) are not counted.

This hedge has a broad variety of species growing within and beneath it.

How nice to wander down the lane, thinking that five hundred years ago it would have been a farm track where sheep were herded much like they still are today.IMG_6754For more information on this subject Coleshed refers you to Oliver Rackham’s excellent book The History of the Countyside (1986).IMG_6922

p.s. when we were kids Galium aparine (common name cleavers) was known to us as goosegrass. Once, on field excursion, a good friend looked at me very blankly when I used the name goosegrass….. until suddenly she exclaimed Sticky Willy! Very unnerving I can tell you.

Anyway a quick online search and it seems that this plant has very many common names including cleavers, clivers, goosegrass, catchweed, stickyweed, robin-run-the-hedge, sticky willy, sticky willow, stickyjack, stickeljack, and grip grass



4 thoughts on “Counting the centuries

  1. While not disagreeing about the wonders of the diversity of the countryside there is no green belt designated land in Devon.

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