Stroud’s historic hedgerows
I thought I would do something different this time. Back in July 1996, at a meeting of parish landowners, I gained permission to survey all the hedgerows of our parish. Hedgerows can be the most important connected farmland wildlife habitats. As well as recording the trees and shrubs, I was keen to consider our hedgerows in a historical context representing our communities from at least the Roman-British period, through Medieval times, the 19th Century sand and clay diggings supporting Stroud Brickworks and through to the present day.
The history of our hedgerows turned out to be quite fascinating. The first detailed clues appear in the mid-19th century Tithe Award Maps and the story can be followed on historic Ordnance Survey maps. See: https://stroudvillagehall.org/home-2/history/.
We know little of the Roman-British Period except we have a substantial complex of buildings (Stroud Roman Villa) that must have been served by roads and agriculture. Two hedges are on a direct alignment with Petersfield Heath and could be on a Roman alignment.
Looking at my compilation of the three parish Tithe Maps (Figure 1 and see (https://stroudvillagehall.org/stroud-in-the-mid-19th-century/) several things become apparent.
Stroud Tithe Map 1839-1852
Figure 1 Compilation of the three Tithe Award maps.
The brown area in the west represents Stroud Common and part of Steep Common and apart from the Pest House and the traqcks along the present day Ramsdean and Winchester Roads, there is little else to be seen although there may have been sand and clay diggings supporting the Brick Kilns. In contrast, most of the larger eastern part of the parish is subdivided by field boundaries assumed to be hedgerows plus what was then called Holmwood Copse (now Furzefield Copse).
Looking closer, many of these hedgerows are sinuous and wind across the landscape following ancient parish boundaries (purple dotted lines) and stream courses and bounding an irregular pattern of meadows and fields. These sinuous hedgerows, and the landscape they divide, will be the oldest in the parish and at least medieval in age and may date from perhaps the earliest woodland clearances on heavy clay soils. Many of these winding hedgerows are set on banks with drainage ditches to either side suggesting that the clayey land lay wet in the winter and needed drainage.
The large irregular fields are often subdivided by more modern straight hedgerows, and which will have been planted.
Some 30 years later, the maps show that the old Common was being subdivided by hedgerows and we now see Ramsdean and the Winchester Roads and North Stroud Lane much as we see them now (Figure 2 and see https://stroudvillagehall.org/stroud-in-1871/) and presumed to be bounded by the planted hedgerows we see today.
Figure 2 The 1871 Ordnance Survey Map showing subdivision of the old Common land.
Later maps (https://stroudvillagehall.org/about-us/the-history-of-stroud/) show a similar landscape but with the increasing number of dwellings and expansion of clay and sand diggings and rationalisation for modern farming where some hedgerows have gone and others have been replaced by wire fences. It turns out that at the time of the survey we had:
- 8.8km of ancient hedgerows,
- 1.6km of ancient parish boundary hedgerows,
- 4.2km of Stroud Common enclosure hedgerows,
- 0.65km of recent hedgerows and
- 1.5km of new roadside hedgerows along the A3 bypass,
- 16.7km of hedges in total.
Since the survey was undertaken, there have been new hedgerows established on New Buildings Farm.
Trees and shrubs
I recorded all tree and shrub species and especially those occurring within 30-yard segments where the number of woody species gives an indication of hedgerow age in 100s of years and their biodiversity value. While many hedges had up to five species, others had up to seven and occasionally 9 or even 11 species suggesting they may be of some antiquity.Species-poor (more modern) hedges comprised mainly hawthorn with blackthorn, elder, dog-rose and grey willow.
Small numbers of guelder-rose, hop, crab, ash, gean (cherry), elm, privet and honeysuckle also occur and with alder, aspen and crack, goat and grey willows alongside the Criddel stream.
Some of our hedgerows are marked by lines of trees (especially English Oak) especially in the south-east of the parish and along the Criddel Stream (that marks the southern boundary of Stroud). Other hedgerows are regularly trimmed, and which reduces their shelter for nesting birds and a source of berries for wintering birds.