Hands Off The Hedge

We hear a lot about our architectural heritage and the lengths to which the appropriate bodies routinely have to go to protect it from soulless development. I cast my mind back to the famous Frank McDonald book The Destruction of Dublin which was published in 1985.

In the book McDonald chronicled the systematic disfigurement of Georgian Dublin to make way for a series of, what became known as, brutalist developments. Entire Georgian streetscapes were razed to make way for modernist monolithic boxes. The modernist monolithic box has its place of course and one day their presence will be cited as an important part of an evolving built environment but to have them supplant the existing colonial era townhouses in the way that was facilitated then was just plain wrong.

It wouldn’t happen now. The same cultural barbarism would not happen now, not in the city at any rate. But acts of official vandalism on a scale every bit as grand as the destruction of Georgian Dublin happen every day of the week in the countryside. And it doesn’t raise an eyebrow.

The Irish hedgerow is a special thing, a thing worth preserving. The various mixes of spindle, blackthorn, hawthorn, holly, dog rose, oak and ash to be found in the Irish hedgerow are unique and are a defining characteristic of our rural landscape. So, one would imagine that its protection would be something of a priority at local level, official policy even. Well if it is, I see very little evidence of its enactment.

I have asked the question before; why does so much road frontage hedgerow have to be sacrificed when rural houses are being built? I can think of at least a dozen houses built in the last ten years within a five-mile radius of me where 100 or more metres of hedgerow was removed to be replaced with a timber post and rail fence and beech, laurel, privet or escallonia hedging which has now grown to the footprint of the original native hedge, and beyond.

If this is really about sightlines well where is the local authority representative marshalling the growth patterns of what has replaced the original and issuing the appropriate pruning orders to the householder? It doesn’t happen.

There are better ways. I’m sure we’ve all noticed the odd row of rural once off houses built at “arm’s length” from the road. I’m talking about the very welcome situation where one entry point is excavated in the hedge and the access road to a series of houses is constructed behind the hedge, parallel to the road.

It’s a win win. It keeps the hedge (mostly) intact, it provides a sound buffer for the residents and it ensures enhanced safety for playing children. The difference in the amount of land given over by the landowner is only the area occupied by the access road and is therefore negligible.

Why can’t we contemplate the concept of the rural cluster development? Surely it is not beyond the capabilities of a local authority to see the benefits of facilitating the construction of a collection of once off houses further into the field, with one access point.

To my mind, the benefits are self- evident; it looks better, it’s safer, it ensures better socialisation and play opportunities for children of parents who are determined to live in a rural setting.

If there is one positive aspect to the suburban housing development where most of us now live it is the ease of prolonged peer interaction that such a setting provides for our children. The rural cluster could recreate that same phenomenon in miniature and go some way towards alleviating the torturous boredom experienced by some kids marooned deep in the countryside with no peers within strolling distance.

Hedgerows give our rural landscape coherence. Someone, somewhere decreed that they have to be sacrificed to facilitate rural development but it doesn’t have to be that way. Build away, just leave the hedges alone.

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