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A patchwork quilt across Devon
By Laura Joint
BBC Devon

Hedgerows in the South Hams
A patchwork quilt of hedgerows in the South Hams countryside

If you view Devon from the air, you'll see a landscape that can best be described as a patchwork quilt.

And if you go for a drive, the dominant roadside feature is the miles upon miles of hedgerows.

So it probably comes as no surprise to learn that Devon has more hedgerows than any other county in England.

It is estimated that there are 33,000 miles (53,000km) of hedgerow in Devon, and that the county has about 20% of all the species-rich hedges in the UK.

A dormouse
Hedgerows support key species such as the dormouse

The humble hedgerow is celebrated each year with Devon Hedge Week, which in 2010 takes place from Saturday 23 October to Sunday 31 October.

The fact that hedgerows are still the predominant feature in the county is a reflection of Devon's pastoral landscape, and the management systems used by the farming community.

Devon's hedges also play an important part in the county's environment - and they are the main refuge for a wide range of plants and creatures.

As an example of this, a survey of species in a hedgebank at a farm in Chudleigh found 293 types of flowering plants.

Species-rich hedgerows are those which support key species such as the dormouse, greater horseshoe bat, cirl bunting, Devon carpet moth, brown hairstreak butterfly, balm-leafed figwort, hay-scented fern, primroses and bluebells.

The Devon hedge consists of an earth bank faced with stone or turf which usually has bushy shrubs on the top.

A hedge in Devon
Wildlife loves hedgerows, especially when they're in full summer bloom

They are characteristically very old. Most of our hedges are of at least medieval antiquity, with perhaps a quarter of them being more than 800 years old.

On the fringes of Dartmoor, some hedges continue the boundaries of Bronze Age field systems, some 3,500 years old.

Generations of farmers have been responsible for creating and managing these hedges as stock-proof barriers and shelter for livestock and crops.

The hedges may mark changes in soil type and most are still valued by farmers as field boundaries and for shelter, despite the introduction of stock fencing.

Devon County Council has launched a biodiversity action plan to help preserve the species-rich hedgerows.

Many hedges have been removed in the past century, and it is hoped the conservation efforts will ensure the remaining network is saved for future generations.

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