Now I am as romantic as the next man. An early joy was bumbling around Exmoor with the occasional pleasure and delight finding an odd narrow road lined with beeches reaching out and joining up to form a tree tunnel. Even more romantic with the copper of autumn and the wind-whipped leaves. So yes I do get it. The problem is, it no longer an occasional road. Somerset is blessed with very many hedge lined roads. Farmers are now just flailing the sides of these hedges and are no longer cutting the tops. So they grow ever taller, beyond the upper reach of the flail, then spread out over the road seeking the sun. Result, yet another road tunnel. More and more of our hedge lined roads are turning rapidly in to tree tunnels.
So what could possibly be wrong about yet another romantic stretch of road? Actually a lot and we should all start to become concerned. The first is just the rapid change between bright daylight and the dark shadow within the tunnels, so easy to miss the cyclist, pedestrian, a crossing deer, even an oncoming car could be missed as the eyes adjust, accidents just waiting to happen. Any rain water falls in much heavier drops under trees and the water, depending on tree species, cuts into the tarmac surface which degrades much faster. As the branches increase in size and over-stretch themselves, the risk of sudden collapse, without any prior warning, increases, not a nice thought. Hedges which are regularly coppiced, cut down to a set level frequently, will carry on throwing up new shoots and continue to grow. A hedge which has not been checked will expand and grow rapidly into a tree until the verge can no longer sustain it. At which point it becomes a hazard and at risk of that catastrophic fall. It is now too big to be coppiced but will die if cut.
So as ever the choice is ours. Act now and trim the tops of our hedges, keep them healthy for generations to come. Or neglect them, get sidetracked by a short-term pleasure, only to lose them entirely in the longer term with the ‘hedge’ grubbed out because it had grown too dangerous. If we want our children to enjoy the rural Somerset we experienced it now past time to shout out, top off our hedges to save them!