The winter work programme continues while there is the opportunity but an early spring will put a stop to it and any remaining work will have to be carried over to October and next winter.
In the meantime ditches have been cleared, trees coppiced, or where they pose a potential danger, felled. Where grazing does not take place, grasslands have been strimmed and raked ahead of the new growing season when, it is hoped, abundant flora will provide plenty of feeding opportunities for a range of invertebrates including our falling numbers of bees and butterflies.
Late winter provides an opportunity to re-lay hedges that have grown tall and unruly over the past few years. Farm hedge cutting is not permitted after the end of February and cannot recommence until the beginning of September. This is to allow birds to nest undisturbed and it should be extended to household gardens too. The period for hedge laying, however, extends to the end of March. This is a time-consuming but very enjoyable process and the beauty of this of this management is that the growth is retained alive but laid down along the hedgerow. Thus it continues to provide ideal nesting opportunities and dense cover for birds as well as much-need autumn and winter seeds and berries for birds and small mammals. Very soon after a hedge has been laid in March it will burst into blossom and leaf and further growth will commence. Sadly there is no place for hedge-laying in modern farming systems because farms are too large, labour is not available and it is slow and expensive to carry out.
Originally hedge-laying provided secure field boundaries by providing natural fencing to keep livestock within bounds. Although it is possible to see old hedges that were laid in the past, this form of management was never as popular in Suffolk as in the Midlands where, until quite recently, mile upon mile of hedgerows were laid. This is a shame because it is a form of management that appears to meet with universal approval and in addition is hugely beneficial to wildlife. These days there are very few countryside management methods which can be said to tick all the boxes.