My dorset Farm
PUBLISHED: 16:45 06 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:52 20 February 2013
In the first of a new series focusing on Dorset's farmers, we meet George Hosford from Travellers Rest Farm, near Blandford, who is using his hedges as wildlife corridors
My Dorset Farm
In the first of a new series focusing on Dorsets farmers, we meet George Hosford from Travellers Rest Farm, near Blandford, who is using his hedges as wildlife corridors
In January our hedge-cutting contractor begins trimming our 26 miles of hedges with his tractor and flail hedge trimmer, a laborious and expensive job. Without it the hedges would become straggly lines of scruffy bushes, which eventually fall over, and flatten the fences that keep animals safely in their fields. Since the beginning of 2010 we have been members of the Higher Level Environmental scheme (HLS). This scheme advises us to trim our hedges biennially and some triennially. It is immediately obvious why. There is so much more hedgerow fruit on second year growth. The last of the sloes, hawthorn berries and rose hips provide a vital food supply for huge numbers of birds during the winter and early spring.
To encourage a wide range of wildlife it is also important to have a mixture of different sized hedges. For example the greater horseshoe bat, a colony of which live quite near to our farm, needs large overhanging hedges. They like to fly along in the shade of the hedge trees, feeding on the flies which congregate there.
Martin Piper, a hedge-layer from Wimborne, is working here this winter. Hedge-laying is an ancient art which involves stripping off side branches from the main stems of the overgrown hedge mocks, cutting most of the way through the stems and laying them down, as close as possible to the ground. Over the following season, dormant buds on the stems sprout forth with new growth. Over three or four years, a gappy line of straggly bushes becomes a nice compact hedge. Years ago, when hedges acted as stock barriers. This process would be repeated on a long rotation of maybe up to 15 years. This is why hedges are often made up of viscious thorny species to help repel marauding livestock.
The practise of hedge-laying is both time consuming and expensive, modern fencing is far quicker and cheaper. As a result many hedges have been neglected over the last 30 to 40 years. Gaps develop, breaking up the corridor effect that enables hedges to join more extensive wildlife areas like woodland and unimproved downland.
Various grant funding agencies, such as Natural England, have supported the resurgence in hedge-laying. Training is available from local training organisations, and on this farm several hundred metres have been laid in the last five years. We are encouraged to gap-up, with suitable species, such as hawthorn, blackthorn, alder, field maple, dogwood, spindle, and others, to match the existing species in the hedge. It is said that you can date a hedge by the number of species; as a rough rule of thumb, one species per 30 metres gives an approximate age of 100 years.
George runs educational farm visits to Travellers Rest Farm. To arrange a visit contact FACE (Farming and Countryside Education) South West on 01935 863886. Hedge-layer, Martin Piper can be contacted via the Dorset Coppice group on 01258 472299 or you can email
About Georges Farm
George Hosford and his brother Dougal run a family farm business at Travellers Rest Farm, near Blandford. The 2000 acre farm, rented from the Crown Estate Commissioners, is mostly arable with some grassland for the 50 head of beef cows and their progeny and 230 ewes and their lambs. Traditional farm buildings form the basis of a self-storage business, and provide workshops for local small businesses. In addition there are rented out paddocks (some with stables) and a small pheasant shoot. George has four children and his wife Jayne is a Matron at Bryanston School.