Ever since the first human settlements 10,000 years ago, hedgerows have been a feature of our landscape and our history. The Romans were keen hedge builders, the Anglo-Saxons gave us the word "hege" and in the nineteenth century villagers rioted against the building of hedged enclosures. Many of these ancient hedgerows still survive, and today they line our motorways, fringe our gardens and criss-cross the countryside.
In The Natural History of the Hedgerow: and Ditches, Dykes and Dry Stone Walls, John Wright tells the story of hedgerows past and present, encompassing their long significance in the life of the countryside, their origins and natural history, the ancient crafts involved in their creation, and the huge variety in their ages, sizes, shape, composition and functions. Full of beautiful line drawings and colourful photographs, the book transforms these stalwarts of nature into rich sources of cultural, historical and scientific material. You'll never look at shrubs in the same way again.
"A true labour of love spiced with a fine dry humour [...] a rich and spellbinding love letter to the great British hedgerow [...] [not] just a delightful one-off read, but an invaluable work of reference that will remain on my bookshelves for good."
– Christopher Hart, The Sunday Times
"This handsome book is essential reading for anyone who cares about the countryside [...] Wright is a friendly, expert guide and the book ends with a plea: let us treasure our hedges for all they teach us and all they protect."
– Daily Mail
"A beautifully presented field guide."
– Robbie Millen, Times
"Fascinating [...] his book grows on me, like honeysuckle [...] shows a clean limb and a sense of humour [...] he does the hedgerow good."
– Country Life
"Hugely enjoyable [...] such a pleasure to read [...] laced with humour and an abundance of first-hand knowledge."
– BBC Countryfile
The author is stronger on hedgerow plants and dry stone walling than the mammals of the hedgerow. That he perpetrates the myths that hedgehog decline is due to out of control badgers eating them shows his lack of research/knowledge on the eponymous mammal of the hedgerow. The same lack of knowledge is shown in referring to dormice, who actually do use flailed hedges, finding the strong forks in the cut branches good for nest building, he may be surprised to know they eat insects most of the summer as well as flowers and fruits.
Why is he surprised by only small numbers of harvest mice in hedgerows? They live mainly in fields or reed beds.
It's essentially an introduction to hedgerows for general readers if a bit turgid, but if they want more in-depth information they'll need to look elsewhere.
John Wright is a naturalist and forager and one of Britain's leading experts on fungi. His most recent book is The Naming of the Shrew: A Curious History of Latin Names (2014). He is the author of books on hedgerows, seashores, mushrooms and booze in the popular River Cottage Handbook series.