New for 2021: Be a-mazed by this Cornish hedge
- Credit: Gemma Wearing
Cornish hedges are a vital ecosystem for tens of thousands of species - and now they are a work of art, writes Su Carroll
Cornish hedges are, as the name suggests, unique to Cornwall. Neither a dry stone wall nor a hedgerow, they are precisely built structures which are still in use more than 4,000 years since they first appeared. In the Neolithic Period, 4-6,000 years ago, these stone-faced banks with their rammed earth core were used to enclose farmland and protect crops. Each area of Cornwall would use its own particular local stone and build in its own style, creating the familiar features we see all over Cornwall today.
They remain important to the landscape of Cornwall as well as its ecology. But they are under threat on several fronts. The hedges function as a reservoir for tens of thousands of species of insect plus 600 species of flowering plants but they are impacted by the worldwide decrease in pollinators. The loss of farmland and land development have affected them too, and the ancient craft of building them is dying out.
Cornwall has more than 30,000 miles of Cornish hedges, but they are being lost at the rate of 60 miles a year. Despite their geological, ecological and cultural significance, Cornish hedges are not currently protected under hedgerow regulations.
But fear not! One group has brought together several interested parties to draw attention to the importance of Cornish hedges and to highlight their beauty. Golden Tree Productions - the team behind the famous giant Man Engine which journeyed through Cornwall - has launched the Outdoor University of Cornish Hedging to build Kerdroya, The Cornish Landscape Labyrinth, at Colliford Lake on Bodmin Moor.
This major new piece of public land art built on a disused carpark site will be a labyrinth of traditional Cornish hedging 180 feet in diameter. When complete, visitors will have a fully immersive experience as they walk a single, meandering path through stretches of artisan stonework, celebrating the distinct hedging styles found in all 12 sections of the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty , which is celebrating its 60th anniversary year. Stone used will come from different parts of the county.
The project will also be used to share vital Cornish hedging skills by running training courses.
‘The Outdoor University of Cornish Hedging will address the dire shortage of expertise in the preservation of existing hedges and the building of new hedges, in the styles that are unique to each area of Cornwall,’ explains Tamsin Daniel, Heritage Service Manager at Cornwall Council. ‘The project will transfer skills to a wide pool of people, providing employment and training opportunities whilst ensuring that there is a new generation of people across our community safeguarding the future of Cornwall's hedges, truly a cultural treasure.’
Money for the project has come from Cornwall Council, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Cornwall AONB, Arts Council England, Cornwall Heritage Trust and FEAST and has the support of the Guild of Cornish Hedgers. Groundwork has already been completed on site and the Cornish hedge foundation boulders, known as grounders, are already in place.
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Will Coleman, Artistic Director of Golden Tree and pioneer of the project, says anyone can get involved.
‘We are now inviting one and all to join us at the Outdoor University of Cornish Hedging to finish creating Kerdroya, a living testament to culture, habitat and skill. Not only can you be part of building one of the largest classical labyrinths in the world, you will be part of a project that will support tens of thousands of species of insects and pollinators, plus 600 types of flowering plants – it’s a deep investment in Cornwall’s future.’
Golden Tree is also welcoming donations of stone from the 12 AONB sections across Cornwall. For more
information or to make a stone donation of over five tonne, please contact Golden Tree via email (email@example.com) or call 01209 206169.
CORNISH HEDGING COURSES
There are 2, 5 and 10-day training courses accredited by national awarding body Lantra, as well as the full Guild of Cornish Hedgers Advanced Certificate in Cornish Hedging. All courses will be run by a qualified, fully trained Guild of Cornish Hedgers professional in small groups of no more than six per tutor. Members of the public can book onto courses directly and organisations can email for custom dates and group discounts. A number of pre-allocated funded places will be delivered in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions and local colleges. Visit hedgetraining.co.uk for information.