Hedge planting


The final weekend of January 2024 was a special one for the Nature Recovery Network - half a kilometre of hedge was planted by 75 of us over two days in Eynsham’s Playing Fields and down towards the river Thames. On the Sunday, NRN passed a magnificent milestone in our ambitious bottom-up nature recovery project, as 45 of us (aged 10 to 86) set out to plant new hedges in the new meadows, leased for the community near Eynsham lock and planned for restoration over the coming years.

Such landscape-scale restoration is usually only undertaken by eNGOs and government bodies working with large landowners. So far as we know, we are the first local network to bring together its experts, its community organisations and individual enthusiasts, living in the same place, to initiate and undertake nature recovery work at this scale.

The hedge-planting is part of NRN’s Hedge-in-Time Project which, inspired by our wonderful Freeland farmer, Robert Crocker, aims over the years to connect up our villages by hedgerow, through the meadows and pastures that are being restored. This year, apart from the grand coming-together of the network in Eynsham, hedgerow was also planted at the Peace Oak Association Community Orchard, Witney Road Playground, and by Stanton Harcourt Green Group and Green Appleton.

We are super-grateful to our partners at the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and Wild Oxfordshire who have funded and facilitated the hedgerow plants. We are part of their Hero Hedgerows Project and, for the second time, have excelled in getting our spades in the ground. Last time, our NRN planted 1km out of the total of 1.5km planted for the whole of Oxfordshire.

Amazing NRNers made light work of our planting marathon (though may have ached a bit after!), demonstrating their commitment, passion and growing community skill for achieving local nature restoration bit by bit.   

On Saturday 27 January, thirty of us (individuals and members of our various community organisations) came together to plant 600 bare-root plants called ‘whips’. We created new hedgerows along two sides of the Playing Fields to the north, plus added to a previous stretch on the south side. We planted a species-rich mix of native hawthorn, blackthorn, spindle, field maple, wild plum and hazel, all of which are special for wildlife and make for a vibrant hedgerow once mature.

It was great to have Jessica Bouwer, Wild Oxfordshire’s Hedgerows and Partnerships Project Officer with us, as she was hands on and much impressed by the number of volunteers!


hedge_CIMG5296North playing field hedge team.
Photo: Catriona Bass.


To keep the delicate roots moist and facilitate a varied composition of species, the whips were helpfully bagged in small mixed bundles to allow for a majority of hawthorn to be planted, randomly interspersed with the other species. The bags helped distribute the whips to the planters, and it was easy to maintain a natural mix of the six native species by planting whatever came next out of the bag, making sure we regularly interspersed a thorny whip with a random smooth one.


Hedge-planting-12Recycling cardboard as mulch for the newly-planted whips.
Photo Catriona Bass


Musty hay bales sourced from a wet haystack by Ross Macken, Parish Council Chair, were positioned at intervals ready to mulch around the whips on top of a layer of cardboard to retain moisture and deter competition for light and nutrients.  Scything was needed along one stretch to clear the way ahead of planting and, after planting, each whip’s stem was pruned by a quarter to boost growth; the roots were also pruned as we planted. 

Long Mead’s Catriona Bass highlighted the NRN’s purpose for planting new hedges to restore, create and link up an extended mosaic of wildlife habitats.  Catriona was also excited to announce the inaugural hedge planting event taking place on Changeable Furloughs the next day - the first on-site activity and community spades in the ground for a major new landscape-scale wildflower meadow restoration project across 50 acres that has been five years in the making.

After nearly two hours of busy teamwork on the Playing Fields, it was amazing to see the extent of new hedgerow – over 200 metres!   Thank you to the wonderful people who made this happen – it was such an enjoyable morning.

We adjourned to the south side for a welcome cup of tea (thank you to Ross for opening up the Pavilion and to Wild Oxfordshire for providing the tea and biscuits!), before adding to the stretch planted by NRN volunteers in January 2022. This stretch has been remarkably successful with only one or two losses, despite the challenging summer of 2022 with its drought and heat. Our success contrasts with some of the other groups’ 2022 hedge-planting, who lost up to 70%. We haven’t yet pin-pointed the reasons for our particularly success. We think that good planting and generous mulching to keep the roots moist have been key.  It is also possible that our decision not to use tree-guards for environmental reasons, may have preventing the plants from over-heating in their first year.


Hedge-planting-2-3Keeping the whip roots wet.
Photo Nicola Davies.


The next day, Sunday 28 January, NRNers were thrilled to plant 300 metres of new native hedgerow at Changeable Furloughs (beyond the Neyotts Meadow by Eynsham Lock) as the first on-site step to restore wildflower meadow and a mosaic of wildlife habitats in a major new landscape project, further to the destruction of its ancient wildflower meadows in the 1970s, it having flourished there since Domesday.


Hedge-planting-11Hedgeplanters on Changeable Furlongs.
Photo Jodie Baker.


The project is unique at this scale because it has been conceived and undertaken by a community (led by its resident ecologists and other experts) rather than by a national organisation or government: children, teenagers, adults with physical and mental health challenges, families, community groups, schools, local business and councils are all involved, and our community skill, involvement and enjoyment of nature recovery is steadily growing.

We were pleased to welcome the Oxford Conservation Volunteers who joined us for the Sunday to help prepare for wildflower restoration by removing dominant dock weeds, alongside tackling and replenishing a derelict hedge, plus helping us finish the new hedgerow.


ryletts_CIMG5316Keeping the whips warm with alpaca wool.
Photo: Kevan Martin.


A huge thank you to all the brilliant folk – individuals and groups within the Nature Recovery Network and Oxford Conservation Volunteers.  Creating two new hedges (over 500 metres in total) in one weekend proved exhausting but wonderful! Huge thanks, too, to NRN’s Wednesday Plant Propagation Group, Parish Councillors Milly Chen and Sue Osborne, David Haynes and their team who finished off most of the planting and mulching on all the Eynsham sites. On Sunday 24 March 2pm – 4pm, we will be finishing mulching the hedges on Changeable Furlongs and continuing preparing the fields for meadow creation in the summer. Come and join us with thermoses and cardboard and a wheelbarrow if you don't live too far. (Kevan might even be persuaded to bake!) Find out more here.

Report by Rachel Wilkins

Hedge-planting-19A well-earned tea-break.
Photo Nicola Davies