Dead Hedges

Written by Christina Wakeford.

No, not your once-living garden hedge which is dying or has died!  Dead hedge is a term for a (wo)man-made structure whose origins pre-date Domesday. There is some evidence for the presence of dead hedges in the early Bronze Age; their function would probably have been a barrier to protect livestock.

2020.01.Dead Hedge.Photo C Wakeford sm

 A dead hedge Photo: Christina Wakeford

 Recently there has been renewed interest, as dead hedges greatly benefit the environment.  A dead hedge makes an excellent habitat and corridor for wildlife - a hibernation place for hedgehogs and a nesting site or shelter for small creatures and birds.  It can be a screen or windbreak. Mine hides my compost heaps and protects my wildlife corner from the north wind.  Importantly, it is a carbon negative structure; it recycles biomass (prunings, discarded Christmas trees etc), so no need for endless bonfires (my original motivation for making mine), or for using energy to transport to landfill.

Here’s how to make one.....

Drive in suitable posts 2 or 3 feet apart in a double row. Make it any length - straight or curved; mine is about 3 feet wide and 5 feet high. Then begin to fill it with woody prunings, laying them horizontally and pushing them down as you go. The layers as they accumulate look most attractive in a rugged kind of way. For a neater look you could weave some pliable prunings (coloured dogwood or willow?) through the posts along the length. The woody material decays extremely slowly and may be continually topped up; I’m still adding to the one I started in 2010.

The best tribute, apart from the silent appreciation of the creatures in residence, came from a visitor who lives in France. On returning home he built his own dead hedge (bonfire laws are very strict there). He sent a photo to Amateur Gardening and won £40 for Letter of the Week! And now his neighbours have taken up the practice. The word is spreading.

Hedgehogs

Written by Christina Wakeford.

I think we’re all aware that the hedgehog population has been in rapid decline for years and for many reasons, including habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as the intensification of farming. Let’s hope that the current changes in agricultural policy (payment for ‘public good’) will mean the restoration of permanent pasture, hedgerows and field margins which could encourage the recovery of hedgehog numbers.

In the meantime, I was very pleased last autumn to be the lucky recipient of three rescue hedgehogs.
They had been cared for by a dedicated and knowledgeable person who looks for suitable rehoming places when the hedgehogs reach the critical weight of 600 -700 g so they can safely hibernate outside.
They arrived in a cardboard box padded out with crumpled newspaper for safe travelling. These little, independent creatures are very appealing, with their black beady eyes and their questing, snuffly snouts. But they each have different personalities and one of them, the biggest male, was distinctly grumpy, hissing fiercely and trying to bite as he was lifted out (gloved hands essential).
We released them one by one after dark and they ambled off in different directions to their solitary new lives around the extensive gardens and surrounding pastureland here in Forncett.
As they are not particularly territorial and will wander for a mile or more a night in search of food, I may never see them again!
However, I did provide them with a feeding station to tempt them, offering the recommended food of meaty tinned or dry cat/dog food plus a dish of water.
Most people know now, but just in case you don’t, NEVER feed milk, (nor the bread that is sometimes added) or mealworms - all these play havoc with hedgehog digestive systems and can result in a painful death.
Their preferred natural food consists of beetles, grubs, worms and slugs.
Hedgehogs do not pair bond, and the female raises her young unaided by the male. The hoglets are usually born from May to September. At first their spines (which are modified hairs) are hidden under the skin - imagine giving birth to something prickly! - and the initially white, softish spines begin to emerge a few hours later. At about 5 or 6 weeks old the young leave the nest weighing around 250g. Late born hoglets are often too small to survive hibernation.

 

2020.03.Hedgehog.Photo Wikipedia 2Female with one young. Photo thanks to Calle Eklund/V-wolf - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11009458

 

As you’ll know, hedgehogs are nocturnal, so a hedgehog out in the daytime is a hedgehog in distress. Looking after orphaned, ill or underweight hedgehogs can be quite complex, so the best advice here is to contact one of the people or organisations below for advice. There’s a small army of experienced and willing hedgehog specialists out there, ready to help.

Here are some things we can all do to help conserve this declining species:

  • Garden in a wildlife friendly manner:
  • Use no chemicals (which kill off natural food sources).
  • Create ‘wild’ areas with shelter for hibernation.
  • If your garden is securely fenced, make a 14 cm square hole at the bottom, and ask your neighbours to do the same, to create a hedgehog highway.
  • Take care using netting which hedgehogs can get tangled in.
  • Ensure that your pond has a graded shallow end or ramps to escape drowning.
  • Take great care when strimming and mowing. (Look up Philip Larkin’s poem, The Mower.)
  • Minimise bonfires and always check for hiding hedgehogs. ( I have also found toads love to nestle in bonfire ash so look out for them too.)
  • Also, drive carefully at night and look out for hedgehogs trotting along our little country lanes.
  • Contacts
    My ‘rescuer’ was Sally in Norwich -
    A local rescuer is Tracy Jenkins - 07766 913370
    PACT Animal Sanctuary will give good advice by phone - 01362 820775

The Extraordinary History of Frogs in Forncett and Norfolk

Written by Billy Hosea.

Our elegant and native frog Rana Temporaria still has strongholds in Norfolk. It is the one we see hopping in our gardens – a wonderful friend – predating on slugs, snails, greenfly and beetles. It inhabits territory in the vicinity of ponds, dykes and slow moving rivers and I once had a young frog in my rusting fish kettle under a hedge for several months, regarding me as I passed with its beautiful golden eyes. However, the frog picture is more complex than we might think.

Female pool frog 1 Jim Foster ARC.jpg
Female Pool Frog. Photo: With thanks to Jim Foster

Frogs spawn early to give their young a whole spring and summer to complete their metamorphosis from frogspawn egg to tadpole to small frog before winter’s cool grip. All frogs, toads and newts are amphibians and breed in water. They have smooth supple skin and in colour vary from bright green to brown and ochre with dark markings on their back legs and behind each eye. Female frogs often have flanks splotched with yellow and brick red, dotted with pearly spots.

For about 200 years frogs from continental Europe have been introduced into Britain, often by rich landowners such as George Berney of Morton Hall in Norfolk. These species are closely related to each other and are confusingly referred to as ‘water frogs’ or ‘green frogs’. These frogs have a basking habit, resting on pond banks or floating mats of weed. If disturbed they dive spectacularly into the watery depths. The native frog does not bask in this way although it leaps elegantly away when startled often startling us! It can move further away from water when not breeding. Continental frogs now probably outnumber the common frog and sadly we allowed the indigenous Norfolk Pool Frog, present since the last ice age, to die out by 1999.

Early in this century studies, including the discovery of an ancient pool frog bone in a Saxon, Fenland post -hole, revealed that the northern race of Pool Frog was native to Britain and not an introduction. Pool frogs arrived under their own steam after the last ice age 10,000 years ago and before Britain was cut off from Scandinavia.

In Norfolk the brown-skinned pool frog had lived in glacial ponds known as pingos. Unfortunately as zoologists began to realise the significance of these Norfolk frogs it was too late to halt their decline into extinction. ‘Lucky’ the last pool frog died in London in 1999 without a mate.  Julia Wycherley from the Surrey Amphibian Group clinched the evidence through her brilliant analyses of archive sound recordings of Norfolk pool frogs from the 1980’s and her study of the croaks of pool frogs across Europe. She found subtle differences between the Scandinavian population and those of the continental south. The deceased Norfolk pool frogs had Norwegian accents rather than French ones! Wycherly describes their croaking as a rippling, squeaking, purring sound.

At the Forncett Industrial Steam Museum are edible frogs ‘ridibunda’, a hybrid species between the marsh and pool frogs. These were introduced from Nantes in 1972 by Mr Wong who owned a Norwich restaurant. The young frogs escaped their enclosure in the pastures of Yew Tree Farm and moved slowly into the ponds and ditches of the Tas. At the Steam Museum the handsome creatures appear on the first warm days of April and May. They have a prominent dorsal stripe and can catch their prey by leaping and grabbing it in their mouth. This can include dragon- flies and hatchling moorhens. They have pointed snouts and the powerful voice produces a sequence of duck like quacks culminating in a soft rattle.

Since 2000 efforts have been made to reintroduce the Northern pool frog into Norfolk from Sweden. I am hoping that the pingos are once again reverberating with musical purring.