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Construction Of The Countryside

Construction of the Countryside 

We tend to take many of the features of our countryside for granted, assuming they are naturally occurring.We forget it is a worked countryside not a natural one. Most of its features were put there by farmers over many generations and are now maintained by farmers.

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1. The Ditch
Ditches, or dykes, are small watercourses around fields that drain the land so that crops can be grown. Unlike streams they are not natural but have been dug by farmers. They provide habitat for creatures such as voles and plants such as primrose. Water quality in British waterways generally is better than it has been at any time since the industrial revolution.

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2. The Hedge
Hedges are not as old as you might think. Most were planted at the time of enclosures in the 18th century. After the second World War when the tractor replaced the horse on the farm many hedges were removed to accommodate the new machines. The good news is that Britain retains tens of thousands of miles of hedges and remains one of the most hedged landscapes in the world. What is more since the 1980s hedge planting has seen a revival with farmers planting 7000 miles of new hedge since 1990.Hedges provide valuable habitats for mammals, birds, insects and plants.

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3. The Old Barn
Barns provide the architecture of our countryside.They were built to store crops or house animals in bad weather. Most would be found in the farmyard but others can be found in remote spots standing alone. The materials they are made from often reflect the locality; stone where stone is plentiful and timber where it is not. Some have been converted into residences. Fortunately most remain in their original state. As such they provide vital habitat for species such as barn owl, swallow and bat.

4. The Farm Track
Two hundred years ago decent roads were rare in Britain. The country was crisscrossed by a myriad of cart tracks whose origins went back into the mists of time. Many of those cart tracks remain but today they are used not by horse and cart but by tractor and trailer. Some are used as"˜droves' to herd animals from one field to another. Many of our footpaths run along these ancient tracks. They are also used by wild animals such as foxes or hares. Like roads, tracks need maintenance. It is often down to the farmer to maintain them. If you would like to know more about the wildlife in Derbyshire, then why not check out our section on the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust

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5. The Copse
The copse, or spinney, is a small group of trees and shrubs. In the 1990s alone farmers planted 87 million trees. Copses act to "˜break' up the open countryside and provide stopping-off points for species such as deer that feel vulnerable unless they have cover. Species of tree and shrub will vary but weaving its thorny presence will be the bramble. Brambles provide us with blackberries and offer small creatures protection from larger predators who find the prickles hard to negotiate.

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6. The Meadow and the Margin
If fields were left unfarmed then the grass would grow rank and smother most flowering plants. Where the grass is grazed or mown a different range of flora will thrive. Buttercups and dandelions are our best known meadow flowers but in Britain we have hundreds of wild flower species.The edge of fields are known as the margin. With good management from the farmer this uncropped area will engender great biodiversity. There are over 15,000 hectares of field margin in Britain managed by farmers to benefit biodiversity.

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7. The Pond
Farm ponds were usually created by farmers to provide water for stock. Some may be thousands of years old, others are more recent. Today farmers dig large ponds called reservoirs, to collect winter rainfall which may be sprayed on to crops in dry summers. At present there are over 230,900 ponds in England and Wales, an increase of 12,200 on the number found in 1990. Farm ponds provide habitat for a range of species. Ducks and frogs come to mind but look a little closer and you will see all manner of life.