Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed for coming. So many of you have been here before, I know, which is the greatest thing. And thank you for doing this enormous hedge, which was too big for me at the end of the day! Because as you know, I don’t use a chainsaw – yet! I’ll have to get one of you to show me how to do hedgelaying with a chainsaw, but at the moment I need the exercise!
I did want to say I feel enormously proud to be the Chairman of The Hedgelaying Society because you are all a remarkable lot, if I may say so, and half the problem of course is to encourage more people to take this up – so it’s wonderful to see some of the young farmers from Herefordshire here today taking part. I hope we can encourage more young to go on doing the hedgelaying because so many of us are getting so old, which is always a problem!
Anyway, I also wanted to say today that people so often don’t realise, I don’t think, in this country, how important hedgerows are – and the unique and extraordinary features of our British hedgerows, this countryside’s single biggest Nature reserve when you think about it, with their ability to sequester carbon, help prevent flooding and soil erosion whilst providing stock control, shelter, green corridors and an abundance of food and protection for wildlife, make our hedgerows as precious a natural asset to our planet as any other I have experienced. And this is without recording their immense historical or cultural value as living history with some thirty different styles of hedgelaying to be seen across Britain, a few of which we have been privileged to see being laid here today by all you great experts.
Now, I don’t need to tell you of the destruction that has been wrought upon our hedges and our hedgerow trees over the last sixty years. As a teenager, and when I was a bit younger, I watched in horror as miles and miles of such a wonderful part of the British landscape was grubbed up in the name of agricultural progress, only at the end of the day, to creature featureless prairies at the loss of much biodiversity.
Hedges that had stood for hundreds - even thousands of years - disappeared in an instant. And now our hedgerows are under new threat of disease, with ash dieback threatening to destroy the vast majority of our 150 million ash trees and this following the loss of so many hedgerow elm trees to Dutch Elm Disease, which I vaguely remember in the 1960s and 70s. Many of those hedgerows that remain across Britain are often in need of proper management, as you know better than I, having been left to grow leggy and gapped, unhealthy, and diminished by mechanical flailing and unable to barrier stock or support wildlife. Hence, all my efforts here over the past 41 years now, nearly 42 next month, to plant more than 15 miles of hedges and hedgerow trees – and then to try and learn how to lay them myself after a fashion.
So, if I may say so Ladies and Gentlemen, your efforts today have demonstrated how incredibly important it is not only to plant, but also to manage hedges. Hedges can support hundreds of species of flora and fauna but only if they are carefully nurtured across the seasons and the years, giving animals the proper shelter and habitat to flourish. I believe, over 1500 types of insects alone have been recorded in hedgerows and one study counted over 2000 diverse wildlife species in just an 85-metre stretch.
It has been especially heart-warming to see so many young people taking part in this competition today. I know that The National Hedgelaying Society has been working hard to encourage and disseminate the traditional and professional skills of Hedgelaying and it is clear that this is now paying dividends.
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, finally, as part of our Queen’s Green Canopy, what I call the “Treebillee” as Patron, let us all replant many more miles of hedges as part of this campaign and really importantly as well, many more hedgerow trees to make them a core part of our precious landscape and thus in so doing, help nature, climate and the planet.