Lifelines – planting hedgerows with reverence and connection

Church Warden, Deborah Colvin, shares her experience of planting hedgerows as part of our Earth Justice project.

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Hope is impelled by putting your hands in the ground…. reclaiming the honour of reciprocity… which entails faith in our neighbours.

These words from a talk by Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist and Potowotami elder, feel so rich. Hope, earth, and neighbour-relationship all bound up together. And they become richer when you realize she absolutely includes the more-than-human world among our neighbours. What might a relationship of faith, honour and reciprocity with our plant neighbours look like?

At the start of Advent, ten of us from St James’s spent a weekend planting 300m of new hedgerow on the Chettle Estate in Dorset, alongside a group of staff and supporters from St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace.  A hedgerow is basically a line of shrubs and trees so dense that it can serve as a barrier. They have a very long history in the UK – you can still see examples from neolithic times in Norfolk and elsewhere. Under the Enclosure Acts they were planted to privatise previously common land. After the second world war they were removed to allow for large scale, intensive farming. 52% were lost in around 50 years with catastrophic consequences for biodiversity, (see here for more). These days many landowners take a wider perspective, and planting of new hedges, or rewilding of old ones, is underway again.

‘The weekend was a great experience. It offered a real chance to connect with others and nature. To think about our role and responsibilities as stewards of God’s creation, and also feel like we had contributed to the natural world in a properly constructive, practical way.’ Jen

St Ethelburga’s Co-director Tarot Couzyn says: ‘At this time of ecological unravelling, I am interested in the meeting point of large-scale collective action with individual values and transformation’. And so the weekend was full of opportunities for transformation and relationship-building – sharing stories, readings and games round the open fire in the evenings; greeting the dawn outdoors on frosty grass; speaking and hearing our truths over lunch-time soup (outdoors again); night-walking in silence without artificial light; hands-on learning about the medicinal and nutritional benefits of hedgerows (did you know…. during the second world war wild rosehips, which contain many times more vitamin C than oranges, were harvested by the ton, mostly by children). And of course, being in faithful reciprocity with our neighbours the plants themselves.

‘Incredible weekend with a shared sense of purpose, beautifully organized by our (now friends) from St Ethelberga’s. Loved the moonlit walk, Jo’s intro to the multiple benefits of foraged food, and the many and varied conversations that took place throughout.’ Janie

‘It was a wonderful experience working side by side with others from SJP and St. E’s who care about the land, our relationship with the land and each other. We learned how to plant hedgerows and had fun doing it with folks we knew and got to know. Loved the mix of ages and backgrounds who participated and look forward to continuing to connect and learn from those we met at Chettle.’ ???? Rebecca

Naming is important for faithful reciprocity. Say their names: rowan, dog-rose, spindle, field-maple, hazel, elder, hawthorn. And also listen for their many other names denoting their place in the world, how they are known to the fungal networks connecting them to soil and each other, to the insect and microbial and worm-filled biome for which they offer structure, to sheltering wrens and sparrows (and many more), to navigating bats, over-arching raptors, small mammals and reptiles making homes. We methodically measured out, dug holes, planted and protected ‘our’ trees – and they, faithfully, will bring a universe into being.

‘Yes, working outside in the earth with living plants giving hope for the future, with others who also care about nature sharing stories food, games and the campfire – PERFECT praise the Lord!’ Dee

‘A weekend of hope and laughter! Wonderful to be outside and be connected to the land. A real sense of achievement – I’ll never look at a hedgerow in the same way again!’ Zoe

‘Great!’ ???????????????? Sarah

Lifelines is a project for the long haul. This winter, groups from many religious and social justice communities will be out and about across the country, planting hedgerows, and building relationship. Next winter, like the underground mycelial networks supporting the hedge plants, the project will expand and develop. To find out more or join in, email or become a hedge-funder here!