The Green Room ~ 'Hooper’s Hedgerow History Hypothesis'


By the Revd Dr John Harrison  


Cow Parsley in an English hedgerowLike many of you, my wife and I, were glued to the TV on that Thursday evening and into Friday morning as the results of the General Election were painted on to the new political canvas.  

I really don’t know why I do this because I nearly always end up feeling profoundly disappointed, not with the outcome but by the process itself. The mixture of ego-destroying defeat and blatant triumphalism is a sad testimony to the emotional rollercoaster at the centre of life’s fairground. What brings me the greatest sadness is how easy it seems to be in our modern world to discard history and the maturation of human society, while we readily nurture our short-term sense of grievance. So what is well-established is thrown away to be replaced by a raw and shallow-rooted new political canvas.

In the midst of my gloom, how refreshing it was to receive notification of “Cherishing Churchyards Week” between 6th and 14th June which is involving all age groups in a celebration of that precious partnership between human history and the mosaic of natural life around us. No political scythe here, hacking through the vegetation, replacing it with an easy-to-manage ordered and modern world, but a gentle one-ness with life which appears almost chaotic.

Many years ago one of my students presented an undergraduate dissertation on “Hooper’s Hedgerow History Hypothesis” which suggests that it is possible to estimate the age of a hedge by counting the number of woody species in it. So the formula is Age of the Hedge in years = Number of woody plant species x 100. It is, of course, an imperfect tool, but for me it is a measure of the maturation of the relationship between our farming of the land and the natural world which we are borrowing. My father used Hooper’s work to good effect to produce an insightful history of his local parish in Cheshire. Armed with enthusiasm to create what I called a working hedge around our garden when we lived in Scotland, I researched the appropriate species and then let nature take its course.

By the time we left Scotland, the hedge was a riot of all manner of living thing – I felt that I had done my bit for the natural heritage. The next owner of our house was symptomatic of our crude new world – the hedge blocked his view so he hacked it down to the ground (he was a postgraduate).

We are surrounded by an immaturity that seems to deny our intimate relationship with God’s Acre, but we should not be discouraged. Why not celebrate the beauty of your churchyard by engaging with Cherishing Churchyards Week.

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  • Dr John Harrison FRMetS is the Bishop of Newcastle’s Environmental Adviser, and a former Vice-Dean of Natural Sciences and Senior Lecturer, Climate Laboratory, in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Stirling University.






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