Winter reveals the bare bones of the Cornish landscape, the pattern of the fields, hedges, woods and tracks. We tend to forget how much of the landscape we look at now was created by farmers in years gone by.
There are about 30,000 miles of walls and Cornish hedges in the county. They were built to keep livestock from straying. Some of these walls are very old and the skill of building these walls has been passed down through generations.
What we call ‘Cornish hedges’ are actually earth-filled walls of granite, often with gorse and thorn growing on top. They are an ideal way to provide farm animals and crops with shelter from strong winds.
The thorn bushes and gorse on the top of a Cornish hedge are cut back to keep the growth thick and stock proof. Cutting the hedges in the late winter months causes least disturbance to wild life.
Along with the grassy margin at the field edge, the hedge provides an important and very varied wildlife habitat. Trees, bushes, brambles, wildflowers and grasses grow on it. There are stones, twigs and leaves to crawl under and crevices to hide in. The hedge provides a home for insects, birds and small mammals. Rabbits, foxes and badgers make themselves a home by digging into the bottom of the hedge.
Sometimes their digging causes parts of the hedge to collapse and the winter months are a good time for farmers to make repairs where stones have fallen out.