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In my own garden! In broad daylight! I was sitting in the shade reading a book with the chooks around me and out he popped from a gap in the hedge — not twenty feet away — with his back to me. Didn’t look around. Hopped a few feet in a leisurely way (for a stoat), paused and stood up again (which is when I saw the black tip of his tail that marked him a stoat, not a weasel). Slinkied to the end of the hedge and popped back in again.

I couldn’t have been more astonished if a tartan plaid unicorn had popped out of the hedge and farted “God Save the Queen.”

Explains why I haven’t seen a stoat in the field, anyhow — they’ve been using the hedgerows as a highway. And probably killing runnybabbits in there, too.

Hedgerows are used as field boundaries much more often than fencing in Britain. Or were — in the mid-20th, farmers began to dig them up so they could use modern farming techniques with huge agricultural machines.

Mistake. There’s a whole ecosystem dependent on hedgerows. Lots of little birds and creatures live in them and off them and use them to travel in relative safety from one habitat to another. There are now laws in place to protect hedges and encourage new planting.

Some hedges are ancient. Ours is certainly very old. One rule of thumb is to count the number of kinds of shrub — the more the older — though a hedge around a house is planted for show as much as keeping the tups out of the garden, and so would have always more variety than a purely utilitarian hedge.

Ours is like a firework display in slow motion, with one thing flowering and fruiting after another, from Spring to Fall. Blackberry bramble, honeysuckle, some sort of thorn (hawthorn or blackthorn — you know them by the burst of white flowers in May), elder, several kinds of roses. Spectacular. And alive with bird nests.

And down below, a network of dark tunnels the little animals use to get around. And the not so little animals — I’ve seen the cat dive in the very hole the stoat disappeared into. Must be many a dark murder done in them green corridors.

And now you know why the chickens don’t ‘free range’ unless one of us is watching them. Though if old Stoaty had popped out twenty feet closer and nabbed a chook, there’s not much I could do about it.


Comment from Armybrat
Time: July 9, 2010, 12:29 am

The hubby and I decided that driving in Ireland was like driving in a corn maze…only with a narrower path and more turns. If that’s what it’s like around you, no wonder you haven’t passed your driving test!

Comment from Deborah
Time: July 9, 2010, 12:37 am

I am enchanted by your blooming hedgerows! And the wildlife that thrives therein. I grew up around treerows—planted during the grim dustbowl days to help control agricultural erosion in the Texas panhandle. Same concept, different critters. No stoats. Although the panhandle used to have black-footed ferrets. Cousins, I guess, to stoats and weasels. But no one has seen a black-footed ferret in decades. Glad to know the fearsome and winsome stoat still goes walkabout at night. (perfect illustration, by the way 🙂

Comment from USCitizen
Time: July 9, 2010, 12:37 am

CZ Rifle, + one round of .22LR.
Squeeze slowly between breaths.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: July 9, 2010, 12:38 am

It’s just like that. The roads are exactly wide enough for two cars (unless there are cars parked in them, and then there’s only room for one and you have to do a little taking-turns dance). No shoulders — in fact, there are often great ruts where the shoulders should be — and people whizz up and down them at top speed.

I’m a nervous wreck driving here.

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: July 9, 2010, 1:04 am

Yep, similar to what happened during the Dust Bowl. Farmers took down all the trees, the animals fled and there wasn’t anything to prevent the wind from taking away all the topsoil. When they planted the tree rows again, it all came back just like it was…..

Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: July 9, 2010, 2:46 am

A stoat for Her Stoatiness! HUZZAH! Perhaps he came to give homage?

Comment from bad cat robot
Time: July 9, 2010, 3:29 am

I remember those roads. First they eroded down since the time of the Romans, then they had Ye Ancient Hedgerowes on either side. A brief glimpse of sky above. First time I’d ever been claustrophobic in the countryside before. I also finally understood why my ancient ancestor would be willing to get in an oversized leaky rowboat and cross the Atlantic just for “land”. Well, that and avoiding the warrant for heresy. Yes really.

Comment from Bill (still the .00358% of your traffic that’s from Iraq) T
Time: July 9, 2010, 10:18 am

Waitaminnit. They had *heretics* in the Unseleigh Barrow?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: July 9, 2010, 12:42 pm

I’d always heard we got deported for poaching. But I looked up my ancestor (three brothers who came to Virginia together) and it looks like they were Quakers.

We certainly didn’t stay Quakers. In fact, if I had to guess which story is true, my money would be on poachers.

Comment from surly ermine
Time: July 9, 2010, 1:36 pm

Right you are Stoaty. Our fence rows ’round home are crammed full of flora and fauna. Osage orange, locust, catawba, black raspberry, bunnies, bobwhite, coyote, voles, deer even the occasional pheasant, mink, and short-tailed weasel. I hate to see them bulldozed for housing… but hey the crap economy took care of that for now.

Comment from bad cat robot
Time: July 9, 2010, 2:23 pm

Waitaminnit. They had *heretics* in the Unseleigh Barrow?

Silly mortal. In this case I strongly suspect “heresy”=”freely expressing unacceptable opinions to someone with the High Justice”, snarking off being a strongly dominant trait in the family tree. Ancestor’s father got trimmed with an axe for the same crime, according to family legend, so Ancestor sought more healthful climes.

Comment from Bill Emory
Time: July 9, 2010, 3:10 pm

Can you turn me on to the best hedgerow laws explanation on the web? My City hates unruly growth, they like to say it is an “eyesore”. The hedge that separates me from the street is at risk…

Comment from Allen
Time: July 9, 2010, 3:18 pm

Uh-oh, are you going Agatha Christie on us Weasel? “Murder in the Hedgerow.” Come to thimk of it the hedgerows played hell with the Allies after D-Day in Normandy. I can imagine Eisenhower venting his spleen about the things and the British and French members of his staff looking at him thinking: he doesn’t know? We’ve been using these as borders for centuries and centuries.

Comment from Sporadic Small Arms Fire
Time: July 9, 2010, 3:47 pm

>> I couldn’t have been more astonished if a tartan plaid unicorn had popped out of the hedge and farted “God Save the Queen.”

After some Guinness they are prone to loutish antics of the unspeakable kind.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: July 9, 2010, 4:02 pm

Hm. I don’t know how useful Engish law is going to be for you, Bill, but a Google search of “British hedgerow law” will call up lots of good discussion on the first page of hits.

Also, even here, you’re expected to trim the damn thing 🙂

Comment from David Gillies
Time: July 9, 2010, 6:10 pm

Blackthorns mean sloes, and sloes mean sloe gin, and sloe gin means drunk Weasel and Badger.

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: July 9, 2010, 7:49 pm

It’s interesting. the Runnybabbits here at work are getting used to me, I think. When I leave for the night, there is always this one that used to run butt-scared for the bushes. Now it just sits there and watches me walk to the car. A really young one, i think. one of these evenings I’ll try to get a pic for ya.

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: July 9, 2010, 8:08 pm

Exactly, he was scouting the chickens.

Comment from Rich Rostrom
Time: July 9, 2010, 11:03 pm

Allen: the hedgerows in France are four to six feet of hedge on top of three to four feet of earth, and very frequently double. Instant camouflaged trenchworks. Makes Stoatie’s hedge look like a dandelion patch.

And if there were French staff at SHAEF who hadn’t bothered to tell anyone about them, Ike would be justly enraged.

Comment from Bill (still the .00358% of your traffic that’s from Iraq) T
Time: July 10, 2010, 5:24 pm

The SHAEF staff knew there were hedgerows, they merely assumed they were about as sturdy as decorative boxwood hedge.

The biggest problem with the hedgerows in Normandy wasn’t the foliage, it was the thousand years of roots growing down through the berm resulting from a thousand years of road-settling. Trying to get a tank through one was like trying to poke through a horsehair cushion with a basketball…

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: July 11, 2010, 2:29 am

Um. Bill (how much? from where?), um, well, you read all that in a book, right? You weren’t actually there? Right? I wouldn’t ask, but I keep flashing on the various parts of you that have been removed, rearranged or replaced over time, and I can’t help but wondering just when you started out. . . Um.

Comment from apotheosis
Time: July 11, 2010, 2:22 pm

Okay, stoats and birdies and stuff I get…but have you seen a bustle in your hedgerow?

If you do, don’t be alarmed, or anything.

Comment from Doug!
Time: July 11, 2010, 11:38 pm

It looks like stoats live in hollow trees and holes in banks. I wonder if they will live in a bird house attached to a tree? Can’t find any information searching on that though. Check out squirrelhouse.com. He has a web cam set up to watch squirrels.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: July 11, 2010, 11:44 pm

I cannot express how completely STONKED I am to have seen a weasel.

I’ve lived around woods and hiking my whole life and never saw one (thought I caught a glimpse once). I’ve seen them in zoos. I’ve seen them (here) dead in the road. I’ve impersonated one for years. I’ve drawn dozens of them.

But I never, ever, EVARRRR expected to be sitting in the back yard reading a book when one popped out of the hedge in front of me, hopped twenty feet and vanished again.

It’s seriously one of the weirdest and most remarkable things that has ever happened to me.

Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: July 12, 2010, 3:47 am

I always thought that they more scampered, than hopped. Mustilieds are pretty cool, unless you are a rodent, or lagomorph. I am not sure that you want to use Stonk, however.

Here in WI, the Fisher has made a huge comeback, and Wolverines are starting to show up. Wisconsin is still The Land of the Badgers, however.

Comment from Bill (still the .00358% of your traffic that’s from Iraq) T
Time: July 12, 2010, 10:18 am

“Stonk” goes back to WWI, ScotttB — the acronym was from STandard ON-call Concentration (STONC). I found a book of “Old Bill” toons Grandpa T brought back from his tour in the trenches, and “stonked” was used to describe being unexpectedly plastered by massed artillery fires — either by your side or the Hun’s.

Comment from SCOTTtheBADGER
Time: July 12, 2010, 11:41 pm

Bill, I first learned about STONKing in Ian Hogg’s BARRAGE:The Guns In Action The development and use of artillery in WWII. I was not aware that it dated prior to WWII. Thank’s for the info. I would like to get a collection of Bairnsfather’s cartoons, as he was the BEF’s WWI version of Bill Mauldin.

Comment from Little Black Sambo
Time: July 18, 2010, 12:04 pm

The hedges in Normandy are like those in Devon & Cornwall. Very easy to lose your way when driving because you rarely get a view of the landscape, and a normal sense of direction is no help at all.

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