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Cornish hedges are a traditional method of dividing fields, which promote wildlife and plant life growth and do not use modern materials such as concrete which require a lot of energy to create and use. They have been used for over 6000 years to divide fields and boundaries and some still standing today can be traced back to this period.
They are still specified in some planning permissions in the West Country UK.
A Cornish hedge has two sides, which are built by placing huge stone blocks into the earth and packing them in with sub-soil. Smaller rocks are used to build the hedge high until it reaches a level where the jagged larger rocks become neatly flat filled surfaces. A slice of the topsoil is then taken from the ground and stuck on top of the structure.
For larger hedges the stone is built up each side of an earth bank similar to insulation in a cavity wall. On this top layer trees can be planted to create a more powerful windbreak or enhance privacy. This can produce a reduction of wind speed by 20% and also associated wind noise.
The unique combination of materials used in the construction of Cornish hedges has the ecological advantage of creating a mini wildlife refuge. Soil, stone damp and dry conditions as well as access to sunlight allow for many forms of life to prosper, from moss to trees.
The Cornish hedge can become a ecosystem in itself supporting moss, fungi and flowering plants such as bluebells. This in turn becomes food for small insects which create a food source birds and other wildlife.
The benefits of a Cornish hedge are not just ecological. The combination of wall and flowerbed provide a pleasing site when compared to traditional bricks and mortar. Creating a Cornish Hedge would also allow the use of earth otherwise destined to be shipped off site to be used, as well as allowing suitable stonework from building demolition/deconstruction to remain on site to be used as either the retaining stones or as a filling aggregate mixed in to the earth.
Depending on the size of a property it may not be practical to use a Cornish hedge in place of traditional fences due to their size. However serious consideration should be given to Cornish hedging on larger properties or if planning new estates with open areas i.e. car parks. The very nature of a Cornish hedge means they are not susceptible to common problems associated with walls in an urban environment such as graffiti and fly-postering.
The main drawback to a Cornish hedge is that it takes a lot of skill to build them. The technique used is similar to dry stone walling and should ideally be carried out by a craftsman. However this is not a steadfast rule.
In fact in Cornwall itself many volunteers are working to restore 30,000 miles of Cornish hedging, with many finding it a therapeutic passtime. An individual could take on a project to build a Cornish hedge, as it is similar to building a rockery, except vertical instead of horizontal.
While Cornish hedges may not be as easy to maintain as solid brick walls they offer a lot when considering building a large green estate. Cornish hedging has been used for centuries to create boundary walls, which will add character when added to a development. The use of Cornish Hedging in modern builds will also help to keep a traditional, sustainable method of building alive for future generations to enjoy.