The typical Cornish hedge is a stone-faced earth hedgebank with bushes or trees growing along the top. It is called a “hedge”, never a “hedgerow” or “wall”. Our hedges may be of bare stone encrusted with lichens and mosses, or disappear under luxuriant greenery. Between these extremes are many variations, depending on the type of stone used, the local climate and the style of farming. Hedges are our largest semi-natural wildlife resource and our most prominent landscape feature. Their history is preserved in their structure.
In Cornwall there are still about 30,000 miles of hedges, and over three-quarters of these are anciently established. The earliest Cornish hedges enclosed land for cereal crops during the Neolithic Age (4000-6000 years ago). Prehistoric farms were about 5-10 hectares, with fields about 0.1 ha for hand cultivation. Many hedges date from the Bronze and Iron Ages, 2000-4000 years ago, when Cornwall’s traditional pattern of landscape became widely established. Other hedges were built during Mediæval field rationalisations; more originated in the tin-and-copper industrial boom of the 18th and 19th centuries, when many of the heaths and uplands were re-enclosed. Hedges from all these times are still very visible in the landscape and in normal use.