Hedgelands - A Wild Wander around Britain's Greatest Habitat

STOP brutalising hedges and hedgerows!

That is one of the pleas to farmers and others in a hard-hitting book to be published on Thursday April 18.

Writes author Christopher Hart: "Anyone who has passed by a recently flailed hedge will know well the smashed wood and heaps of splinters it produces - not to mention the feeling of wintry lifelessness.

"Cutting by tractor and flailing machine brings deafening noise and soil compaction.

"Furthermore, it burns diesel fuel at approximately a gallon per hour.

"Cutting the autumn hedgerows and destroying their fruit harvest seems frankly bonkers - yet farmers are allowed to start flailing from September 1, and many do so."

Hart's book, Hedgelands, is as fast-paced and thoroughly enthralling as any edge-of-your seat thriller.

Through history, science, personal observation and folklore, he explores pretty well everything there is to know about hedges and hedgerows, past and present.

As he emphasises, they are "superb reservoirs", not just for their intrinsic beauty and value but also as breeding, feeding and hiding places across the whole spectrum of wildlife - butterflies, moths, bees, hedgehogs, harvest mice and songbirds such as whitethroats nightingales and more.

He writes: "From a bird's eye view - or a weasel's or a ground beetle's or a primroses - they are thickets offering perfect habitat, safety from many predators, temperature control on both excessive heat and cold, shelter from the wind and ample food in the form of nectar and pollen, fruit and nuts."

And, of course, they are good place for us humans to forage for berries, nuts and medicinal leaves and flowers.

During the course of his page-turning narrative, Hart comes up with a sprinkling of ornithological insights.

He writes: "Hawfinch means hawthorn finch, first named in 1676 by the Warwickshire naturalist Francis Willughby.

"One cannot help noticing that the name was bestowed just about the time that countryside enclosure (by hedges) was getting going."

However, he is possibly misguided in attributing the disappearance of the wryneck as a breeding species in England to the loss of hedgerows. Its demise is much more complicated than that.

He also overlooks the disappearance from the countryside of species such as the great bustard - a bird which likes vast open areas, not fields patchwork-quilted with hedgerows.

Notwithstanding these points of contention (which the author might challenge), this is a book full of common sense and authority, often playfully written with plentiful splashes of humour.

Hedgelands - A Wild Wander around Britain's Greatest Habitat is published by Chelsea Green at £20 in hardback. It is available wherever books are sold.