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A Devon hedge is a traditional hedge in the English county of Devon. Devon has more hedges than any other English county, thanks to a determined effort to retain the history, culture, and character of the region, spearheaded by numerous preservation organizations. Devon hedges give the landscape a distinctive patchwork quilt look, with fields bordered by beautiful hedges, around a quarter of which are over 800 years old. Some are even older, dating to the Bronze Age in Britain.
Several features characterize a classic Devon hedge. The first is the use of a bank made from earth, which elevates the hedge above the surrounding landscape. Typically, the bank is faced with turf or stones to prevent erosion. The top of the bank is covered in a woody shrub, which is usually kept trimmed to avoid excessive sprawl. Any number of shrubs can be found in Devon hedges, with some bearing fruits or berries, making the hedge multi-purpose.
In addition to creating boundaries, Devon's hedges also play a vital ecological role. Numerous plant and animal species inhabit Devon hedges, with some species appearing only in hedges. This biological diversity is one of the many reasons preservation organizations have worked so hard to preserve the Devon hedge, as they fear the dwindling diversity associated with the removal of traditional hedges in other parts of England.
By tradition, the farmer who owns the land is responsible for maintaining its Devon hedge, and some farmers continue this tradition. Hedging is an ancient art which requires a range of skills, and many enjoy the act of keeping the art alive. In other cases, volunteers may offer to help a farmer maintain a hedge, if he lacks the skills or time. Especially in the case of extremely old hedges, the hedge may become a destination in and of itself, since it is a piece of living history.
It is estimated that around 33,000 miles (53,000 kilometers) of hedges criss-cross the county of Devon. This number was once much higher, but the fact that it remains so high is a testimony to the dedication of the Devon community, which has promoted the preservation and history of the Devon hedge. Visitors to this region of England should definitely take advantage of the opportunity to check out some hedges, and marvel at the thought that some of these humble glorified fences are older than many empires.
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