Hedging in your shirt sleeves

Actually this was going to be ‘diking in your shirtsleeves’ but that apparently means different things to different people. Here a dike is a hedge which is normally set on a ‘cop’. The dike cop is two ‘dry stone walls’ set about a yard apart with space between them filled with soil and stone etc. And here again I’m running the risk of falling foul of all sorts of algorithms because I’m laying a hedge (or in my culture, laying a dike).  

Last year we dug the drain out that runs down one side of the dike and put up a good fence. So I decided this winter that I’d finish the job off properly, lay the dike and then make good the fence on this side as well.

The problem is that my Grandfather ought to have tackled this hedge back in the 1950s when we still had labour. I’m doing the job at least sixty years later than it should have been done.

Looking down the hedge, it isn’t as much a hedge any more as a long narrow copse. The ditch on one side kept it in place, but on the other side it’s pushed its way through one fence and was in the process of devouring a second one erected later. A lot of the old hawthorn is dying, and cutting it right back, removing all the dead wood and rubbish will hopefully revive it. Then I can hopefully work a lot of the new, younger stuff into the hedge as well. But it’s one of those jobs where your best friend is your chain saw. There is just so much rubbish to cut out. Also everything is so entangled. To be fair, that’s one reason why we use hawthorn, because it does interweave and make a good stock proof barrier. The problem here is that the good stock proof barrier is about six feet off the ground and below that you can push between the various boles easily enough.

So I work out which of the vertical stems I’m going to keep. Then I cut out those that I don’t need. Following this I cut away the entangling bits from the ones I do need. Finally I cut diagonally down through the stems I want so they’ll bend over and lie down but still keep their connections to their roots. Note that when I talk about stems, some of these I can just get both hands round. So it makes sense to trim a lot of their upper canopy away, otherwise they’ll be too heavy to lay into place. And all the thick stuff that gets cut out is cut into six foot lengths, put to one side, and my last job of the day is to put it on the saw horse and cut it down to lengths for burning on the fire. Today’s hedging cuts next winter’s firewood.

So in a couple of years, hopefully we’ll have a vigorous hedge with no gaps, and in sixty years’ time, somebody will doubtless curse me as they try and restore order once again.

The problem we face is that whilst I know people who can lay hedges, you need time and to an extent you need the weather. There are only so many months in which you can lay a hedge. Traditionally it’s when there is an ‘r’ in the month. But EU regulation and cross compliance cut this down a bit. Also you cannot do it when it’s too cold or stuff splits off rather than lays nicely, and equally obviously, I’ve got better things to do in the rain. Similarly high winds mean you cannot do the job either. So last winter I got virtually none done.

Then there’s the fact that, with food production becoming more and more marginal, there is less labour about, and the labour we have is far too busy to do jobs like this. We have the ridiculous situation of people, their mouths full of cheap food, complaining that they don’t like the way the countryside is going.

To an extent I can see the justification. It actually makes sense to subsidise food (because the poor spend a far higher proportion of their income on food than the more prosperous do) and then take money in tax of those who are doing OK, to put back into agriculture.

But the problems are caused by not merely how much money they put back, but how they put the money back. It’s how the various schemes are designed. A lot of the environmental schemes over the years have not been very good. Now a lot of environmental schemes are effectively contracts farmers will enter for a period of so many years. When the period is over the farmer can take on another contract. But because all the schemes are changing because we no longer have to just use the EU schemes, some contracts will run out before the new scheme will be available. The idea was that the contracts that ended would just be ‘rolled over’ for a couple of years until the new one was ready and farmers could then transfer seamlessly from one to another.

The problem is that some contracts cannot be rolled over. Basically, the various agencies have had to admit that the scheme they designed hasn’t worked. And you aren’t allowed to roll over a scheme that doesn’t work. (Which is sensible, it’s an attempt to stop public money just being poured to waste.)
Now if the reason the scheme hadn’t worked is because the farmer didn’t fulfil the contract, the money would be clawed back. That can be done and is done. But these schemes haven’t worked, not because the farmer hasn’t done what was asked, but because what the farmer was asked to do was never going to work. The designers of the schemes didn’t know what they were doing. It has to be admitted that in some cases farmers told them ten or fifteen years ago that the schemes wouldn’t work. Fifteen years later, the designers have probably retired on decent pensions, whilst we’re left with fifteen wasted years.

Still, Tuesday was a good day. For once the weather behaved, the sun shone and I ended up taking my jacket off and working in my shirt sleeves. There must be worse ways of spending a nice day in January.


There again, what do I know? Talk to the experts.

For this collection of stories, Sal, our loyal Border Collie, is joined by Terry Wogan, Janis Joplin and numerous dairy cows. Meet pheasants, Herdwicks, Border Collies, and the occasional pink teddy bear. Welcome to the world of administrative overload and political incomprehension. All human life, (or at least all that hasn’t already fled screaming for sanctuary) is here.

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33 thoughts on “Hedging in your shirt sleeves

  1. rootsandroutes2012 January 15, 2021 at 9:37 am Reply

    Thanks for another good read, Jim.

    • jwebster2 January 15, 2021 at 12:52 pm Reply

      And entirely uncontroversial provided I’ve avoided the algorithms 🙂

  2. Doug January 15, 2021 at 9:59 am Reply

    Round here it is dry stane dyke. And console yourself that it’s not just UK/EU schemes.

    In my experience (on another continent), farmers or other interest groups would propose schemes that made sense on the ground. Those would be tweaked as they made their way to the Minister’s desk, and then he or she would insist they were changed sufficiently to garner a decent headline and suit the particular interest groups they favoured (aka donors).

    This would then be passed to the drafters of regulations and scheme administrators would amend to fit with their admin systems, so that what eventually came out of the sausage machine often bore only a passing resemblance to the original proposals.

    Just don’t get me started on the applications process which had to be rigidly formalised so all applications were treated ‘equally’ and I would gnash my teeth as a brilliant submission that was going to make a real difference failed to tick a box, and some other group would be showered with largesse, because they knew much better how to complete an application.

    In the case of environmental grants, I often felt there needed to be a competitive grant scheme for the schemes themselves. Some worked really well, while others were a headline grabbing ministerial hobby horse. Then by the time sufficient safeguards and compliance mechanisms had been added to satisfy rabid tabloid readers that some public servant wasn’t getting an extra pencil out of it, It always amazed me that some money did eventually get to some really great projects.

    If you asked me the one thing that should be done to improve things I would give you two. Make the proposers the ‘owners’ of the scheme, in the sense that they had absolute discretion on design and process. The Minister just had final Yes or No. Not tweak, but just Go/No Go. – the second would be absolutely no retrospectivity. You can’t ask someone to report/do something for last year that they weren’t required to report/do last year…

    • jwebster2 January 15, 2021 at 12:53 pm Reply

      You’ve summed up the process nicely 😦

  3. M T McGuire January 15, 2021 at 11:02 am Reply

    I’d like to think that there are a handful of people whose lives and jobs will be made easier by Brexit and that you are one of them. However, I fear that from what you say about schemes, that may turn out to be bollocks. No matter how great the idea, I suspect that once the beurochrats have been at it, even the best of plans gets turned to shite, as Doug there describes! I do like that you are hedging properly rather than just slashing at it with a tractor! The old guys down Sussex way (where I grew up) used to say that a properly laid hedge beat anything for keeping the stock in and gave them a wind break and a modicum of shelter too. However, I can imagine how the time and labour costs put paid to it in so many places. I guess it’s similar to the way the longbow died out. After all, it was as effective as the musket but it took a lifetime of training to shoot a longbow and a few hours to learn to shoot a musket.

    Glad you had a good day though and it seems like a pleasant way to get firewood.

    • Doug January 15, 2021 at 12:49 pm Reply

      My experience, (as a consultant, a contractor, and a senior bureaucrat), was that the two main issues were not the bureaucrats themselves, it was the fact they had nil discretion allowed in the process, (think about bank managers… years ago, your bank manager decided whether you got a loan or an overdraft, now it is all faceless checklist tickers in a central office), and the politicians. Who could exercise discretion, but all too often used it to promote an ideological viewpoint, nurture a pet project, punish an opponent, reward supporters or seek a bigger headline. And who would override the best processes to deliver an outcome for any of those reasons. You only have to look at various infamous ‘rorts’ (to use the Australian term). The Sports Minister and the whiteboard, or local communities funding allocated in the UK by the Minister and his Junior Minister. Electoral boundaries and sectoral interests rather than merit were all too often the drivers.

      • jwebster2 January 15, 2021 at 12:58 pm

        One reason Brexit was so popular was that for too long too many politicians and bureaucrats have hidden behind the EU. ‘We’d love to do it but Brussels won’t let us’
        The obvious answer was ‘Well if you can do nowt, we’ll pay you nowt’ but that one wasn’t popular

      • rootsandroutes2012 January 15, 2021 at 1:24 pm

        ‘faceless checklist tickers’ – well yes, I suppose I haven’t yet seen an algorithm with a face…

      • jwebster2 January 15, 2021 at 3:13 pm


      • M T McGuire January 19, 2021 at 10:58 am

        Yep, ambition is ugly and its consequences far reaching. And yeh, it’s the same with all of it isn’t it? There’s that meme about the idea and how it gets more and more knackered with each layer of management until the thing that comes in is the antithesis of the thing that was originally suggested.

      • jwebster2 January 19, 2021 at 11:02 am

        The Plan

        In the beginning, there was a plan,
        And then came the assumptions,
        And the assumptions were without form,
        And the plan without substance,

        And the darkness was upon the face of the workers,
        And they spoke among themselves saying,
        “It is a crock of shit and it stinks.”

        And the workers went unto their Supervisors and said,
        “It is a pile of dung, and we cannot live with the smell.”

        And the Supervisors went unto their Managers saying,
        “It is a container of excrement, and it is very strong,
        Such that none may abide by it.”

        And the Managers went unto their Directors saying,
        “It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide by its strength.”

        And the Directors spoke among themselves saying to one another,
        “It contains that which aids plants growth, and it is very strong.”

        And the Directors went to the Vice Presidents saying unto them,
        “It promotes growth, and it is very powerful.”

        And the Vice Presidents went to the President, saying unto him,
        “This new plan will actively promote the growth and vigor
        Of the company With very powerful effects.”

        And the President looked upon the Plan
        And saw that it was good,
        And the Plan became Policy.

        And this, my friend, is how shit happens.

      • M T McGuire January 19, 2021 at 11:05 am

        That’s the one! Perfect illustration.

      • Doug January 19, 2021 at 2:14 pm

        There’s the optimism filter effect for sure. No-one wants to be the bearer of bad tidings, so at each level the actual message gets mediated till it is completely lost.

        At the coalface, the reaction is: ‘who the f*** came up with this bl**dy stupid and unworkable idea’ – next layer up: ‘it seems the suggested approach is problematic’, by the time it reaches the CEO/Minister it’s: ‘there might have been a few teething problems but my staff tell me they are confident they have them all worked out now’.

        It’s one of the better arguments for flattening management structures and granting autonomy at much lower levels.

      • M T McGuire January 27, 2021 at 7:58 pm

        Totally. Small autonomous grips are smarter, faster and more nimble.

    • jwebster2 January 15, 2021 at 12:55 pm Reply

      Nice on a nice day
      This disadvantage of schemes is that they are bureaucratic and time consuming. At least now they won’t have to be relevant for an area stretching from Greece to Finland to the Irish Republic with all the climate differences that produces

      It’s bad enough producing a scheme that can cope with the SW and NE of England

      • M T McGuire January 19, 2021 at 10:55 am

        That’s true. But will they manage it any better? We can only hope eh? 😉

      • jwebster2 January 19, 2021 at 11:01 am

        At least they’ll be closer to hand, they cannot just wiggle out of things and mutter about, ‘we were going to do it properly’ but europe stopped us 🙂

      • Doug January 19, 2021 at 2:17 pm

        Not sure the climactic variation in the EU is a sufficient reason, We used to run environmental schemes (not directly agricultural, but often in collaboration with farming groups) for the whole of Australia, so that’s desert, arid and temperate all the way to tropical rainforest.

  4. Jane Sturgeon January 15, 2021 at 11:15 am Reply

    Lovely post, Jim. Hard work, yet to good to think of you out in the sunshine for a change. 🙂

    • jwebster2 January 15, 2021 at 12:56 pm Reply

      There was a certain novelty to it 🙂

  5. Doug Jacquier January 15, 2021 at 12:26 pm Reply

    As long as your fingers remained safely and chastely encased throughout, Jim, I think the Political Correctness Police have bigger fish to fry. 😉

    • jwebster2 January 15, 2021 at 12:56 pm Reply

      Yes I have long diking gloves 🙂
      And was wearing chainsaw trousers.

      • Doug January 15, 2021 at 1:32 pm

        Who knew there was such a thing as chainsaw trousers? As I only have a small two stroke chainsaw, should i be wearing chainsaw shorts?

      • jwebster2 January 15, 2021 at 3:13 pm

        Seriously if I have to get another pair, I’d go for something like these https://www.toolstation.com/chainsaw-seatless-chaps/p88667?

        Too many leg accidents with chainsaws

      • Doug Jacquier January 16, 2021 at 3:04 am

        H&S would be proud of you but still fine you for not wearing goggles. 🙂

      • jwebster2 January 16, 2021 at 6:15 am

        Well I do wear tinted safety glasses. Because I’ve always worn glasses I’m comfortable wearing them, and when I had my cataract surgery suddenly the windows were cleaned and it got awfully bright, so I got a pair of tinted safety glasses I wear outside pretty much all the time it’s daylight 🙂

    • Doug January 15, 2021 at 10:53 pm Reply

      I was taught to cut upwards with a chainsaw where possible…. 🙂

      • Doug Jacquier January 16, 2021 at 3:05 am

        That’s making my eyes water just thinking about it. 🙂

      • jwebster2 January 16, 2021 at 6:12 am

        Yes, but when you’re hedging you’re cutting at all heights and angles, it’s very different from when you’re working properly 😉
        I think it’s a case of farmers discovering a tool and finding whole new ways to abuse it 🙂

  6. Doug January 15, 2021 at 1:22 pm Reply

    Yep, for way too many politicians, the EU was a very handy scapegoat for their own failings.

    Too many things got blamed on a semi-mythical ‘Brussels’ that existed largely only in the UK press and thus the popular imagination.

    I think that’s why it was so hard for virtually any senior UK politician to make a positive case for the EU. For 40 years, UK politicians of all stripes had blamed the EU for everything from a lack of housing and the sell-off of public assets, to GP waiting lists and zero hours contracts.

    Even for a seasoned and cynical politician it would have taken some gall to execute that kind of pivot without being crucified for hypocrisy. ‘So Minister, were you lying when you said the EU stopped us dong that, or now, when you say they don’t?’

    We are where we are, watch for state aid and ERDF successors to be the next two big explosions. And as I am getting too political, I shall leave it at that.

  7. […] asking to read your post, Jim as she is determined to learn the finer arts of blogging/ Here is the original post and Anita’s […]

  8. Books & Bonsai January 22, 2021 at 1:11 pm Reply

    This is a red letter day in our house, Jim… Anita wanted to take your post off of my hands and here is the result… https://jenanita01.com/2021/01/22/anitas-surprise-response-to-jim-websters-post–hedging-in-your-shirt-sleeves/

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