The Brecon Beacons National Park, where many traditional farming methods still prevail, is one of Britain’s great wilderness areas.
Farmed in much the same way for hundreds of years, the uplands, lowlands, valleys and river flood plains offer a dramatic combination of grasslands, meadows, and mountains, all held together by 3,500 miles of national park hedgerows.
Man-made habitats, hedgerows are attractive at any time of year, but probably at their most spectacular in mid-summer when they are in full bloom. Their function, of course, is to help sustain a countryside eco-system traditionally reliant on native woodlands. For example a well laid hedge gives excellent protection for livestock from winter elements (in particular a ewe with new born lamb).
At this time of year, mid-winter, it is difficult to remember how splendid, lush and fertile the local landscape can look in the summer months, but one of the highlights of visiting this region of south Powys during this season is the chance to appreciate the time, energy and commitment it takes to preserve such a beautiful landscape.
Certainly as far as hedgerow maintenance goes, this is the opportune moment, when growth is at a minimum, to strike a pose and cut some flak.
In our case the surrounding Pentwyn Farm fields, located directly below our house Llwyn-y-fron, have just been given the most majestic of traditional make-overs by the Breconshire hedging expert Trevor Prothero.
Using skills learned from his father and grandfather, he has completely relaid the farm’s hedges in the double brush Breconshire hedging style – the same style as that used in Radnorshire, Monmouthshire and Herefordshire. So deft is Trevor’s handwork that Iolo Williams, the Welsh nature observer on BBC’s Nature Wales TV programme, has just interviewed and recorded his hedging work below Llwyn-y-fron. It is to be screened in September, later this year.
I took these photos as Trevor explained his methods to me. Cutting, trimming and re-laying the existing hedges in a horizontal formation enables them to grow thicker, stronger and taller. As spring arrives, the impressively tight hazel whip woven line of stakes will provide a sturdy platform for new growth, Breconshire style. Which differes to other counties, who in turn have their own style of hedging.
As these photos show, with the stakes positioned in the centre of the hedge, existing trees, stems and hedge-growth are double brushed and woven around every central stake to provide an immensely strong natural barrier. As the older growth is cut back and re-trimmed to prepare space for new growth, the hedge line will take on a new life of its own.
The wider panoramic photos show the carefully crafted hedges of the Brecon Beacons countryside from a distance. Dominating the distant landscape at every turn, they neatly carve the fields and Beacons uplands into a patchwork of sheep-proof squares and rectangles.
With Trevor’s skill our local hedges will soon be rejuvenated. For example, although the hedges ideally get the ‘Trevor treatment’ every 15 years, it is remarkable how quickly new growth and sturdiness appears, as you can see in the image of a hedge he completed a couple of hundred metres away, only this time last year.
Working with traditional billhook and axe, Trevor’s steady pace has turned the fields below us into an art form of a landscape. Dramatically enhanced by the clear, cold January air and a dusting of new fallen snow, the view is worthy of the big screen.
Whatever the weather, enjoying the view from our mountainside terrace, or anywhere else in the National Park, you will appreciate the neat winter hedge views either for their symmetry or for the explosion of life. That will reach its crescendo in summer, when a profusion of shrubs, seeds, grasses, flowers and fruits emerges, all providing a safe haven for insects, birds, woodland mammals and even bats.
Enjoyed and relied upon by one and all – including farmers, locals and National Park visitors.