Hedges will sing for 100 miles across Hardy’s Dorset

The Great Big Dorset Hedge project aims to create a wildlife highway stretching nearly 100 miles from the border with Somerset in the west to the edge of Hampshire in the east.

Mario Ledwith www.thetimes.co.uk

The rolling hills, wild unspoilt landscapes and bustling market squares of Dorset served as the centrepiece for much of Thomas Hardy’s work.

Describing the rural playground in Far from the Madding Crowd in 1874, the Victorian novelist and poet wrote of land divided by hedgerows that sang as the wind danced over the land.

Now, after a century of decline, a campaign group is hoping to restore the hedges that Hardy said made “a mean show as a fence” by planting a continuous line across the entirety of Dorset.

The Great Big Dorset Hedge project aims to create a wildlife highway stretching nearly 100 miles from the border with Somerset in the west to the edge of Hampshire in the east.

As well as offering food and shelter for wildlife, environmentalists say that the network will combat the effects of climate change and reinvigorate the landscape’s physical beauty.

The project has been instigated by the Dorset Climate Action Network, which said that thousands of miles of ancient hedgerows have been ripped out over the past century to accommodate agriculture and large machinery.

Volunteers are being sought to map the hedge network before planting honeysuckle, elm, hawthorn, dogwood, blackthorn and trees in the gaps. It may take a generation for the completion of a hedgerow to “stretch the length and breadth of the county”.

Jenny Morisetti, from the campaign, said: “What we are hoping to do is fill in the gaps in the existing hedgerows to create a footpath for the natural world. The idea is that insects and other wildlife will be able to move around more freely with cover without fear of predators and be more resilient to pesticides.

She added: “It’s a big project, ambitious and long-term, but we hope it will bring communities together.”

Although in its early stages, the project is being pitched as a future tool against climate change, with hedgerows protecting against flooding and soil erosion, providing shelter and helping to combat air pollution.

The charity Rewilding Britain has called for at least 5 per cent of Britain to be returned to the wild and for wildlife to be protected across another 25 per cent of land and sea to create corridors that plants and animals can move through in response to climate change.

The project is thought to be the most expensive hedgerow expansion being undertaken in the country. Similar projects are being carried out by volunteers in Devon and by the Hedgelinks organisation across the country.

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