The mystery of the dying hedge – solved!

Regular readers of this blog will remember the mystery of the dying hedge near where I live in Northamptonshire (see here, here and all the comments on the blogs).

Local artist , and designer of the jacket for A Message from Martha, Carry Akroyd, once painted this hedge because it was so beautiful (see below).

nice bit of hedge

But the actual hedge, last summer, looked more like this… (the left hand side)



and this…


I recently received this account from the owner of the hedge which clears up the mystery. By agreement, no names are mentioned.


The following is the true explanation of the sad demise of our once beautiful hedge on the Clopton to Thurning road. This also serves to put all the so-called knowledgeable people right. After a lifetime (50 + years, third generation) of responsible farming, and never having killed a hedge by cutting one ‘at the wrong time’, or spraying one with chemicals, it was with great shock and sadness to see the hedge in question start to die. It was at first a complete mystery to us. Eventually it came to light that the neighbouring farmer, when returning to his farm after spraying a field next to us in the Autumn of 2013, failed to fold the nearside boom of his sprayer up properly, nor turn his pump off, allowing chemical (Roundup) to be continually sprayed along a short bit of his hedge, but about 1 mile of ours on his left. When he eventually realised his error he pulled into our gateway at the end of the hedge, and sorted it all out, but of course it was too late, the damage was done. Of course this did not come to light until signs of the hedge dying became obvious the following year (2014). We are having to wait until this spring (2015) to see what happens, as there is a potential insurance claim.

To say we were upset at the possibility of losing such a lovely, mature hedge is an understatement. If it has to be replanted, it is a sad fact that, as it will take many, many years to grow into something substantial, we will not still be alive to see it mature, but at least future generations will.

Anyone who knows us knows that we are very conscientious about nature and wildlife and are very careful about such things, this is born out by the fact that there is a wonderful variety of birds, mammals etc on the farm, which I enjoy photographing day after day.


So, there we go. An accident; a sad accident by a local farmer.  Mystery solved. I’ve agreed to go and look at the hedge again next spring and I’ll update you on the state of play. Fingers crossed for green shoots of recovery.


16 Replies to “The mystery of the dying hedge – solved!”

  1. If valuable plants in our garden are accidentally sprayed with roundup (it can happen) then quick work with the watering can to wash it off – its supposed to need several hours rain free to work properly – has rescued the situation.

    The neighbour here is not only careless in having a spraying boom sticking out while driving (for a mile!) but compounds the ‘mistake’ by not appearing to have even attempted any corrective action which could have made a difference.

    If I’d sprayed roundup along a mile of hedge then I’d know what’s likely to happen!

    Its a shame and a poor example of neighbourliness.

    1. “…and a poor example of neighbourliness”

      I prefer to say it’s a good example that accidents do happen – we are all capable of making mistakes. I’m assuming that the neighbour in question must have fessed-up to his or her error – not owning up would be a ‘poor example of neighbourliness’.

      Also consider the logistics of returning to the hedge to spray it with clean water. We know that his tank still contained Round-up so this would have to be either emptied and disposed of responsibly, which would take time, or more likely (and practical) safely applied to a suitable area of land. Either way this would take at least several hours. Of course he may have owned another sprayer (unlikely) which happened to be filled up with clean water and ready to go (again unlikely) and thus able to return to the hedge within the hour. But even then in all probability the damage would have already been done.

      I’ve never heard of this happening before, yes I’ve come across isolated incidents of spray drift but nothing of this nature. Given the frequency which glyphosate is applied to most land used for growing broadacre crops (e.g at least once a year) then maybe it shows how careful and competent the farming industry is.

      Accidents happen.

      1. “Given the frequency which glyphosate is applied”

        Quite – way over 90% last time I looked at any stats. In view of that it is surprising that there are so few recorded incidents like this one. What is also surprising is the lack of any apparent damage to the verge – some gappiness might have been expected

      2. Oh its all too much bother…getting a sprayer, and some water; its only a mile of hedge after all, it’ll recover in 5-10 years, maybe.

        “Of course this did not come to light until signs of the hedge dying became obvious the following year ”

        So having “sorted it all out” at the end of the lane to the farm, the accidental sprayer didn’t bother his backside to pop up the lane and explain that he’d just sprayed a mile of his neighbour’s hedge with roundup and see if there actually was there anything they could do between them.

        “accidents happen’? I suspect that if the boom had swung over and clocked a pedestrian/cyclist/motorist then it might have been seen more as carelessness.

        As for inadvertently/carelessly spraying a mile plus of hedge with a broad spectrum herbicide as an indication of how good spraying practice is in farming – that sticks in the craw a bit! Someone less charitable would say laughable.

      3. You’re right of course Ernest. We’re all capable of doing something stupid in a moment of absent mindedness but I think the likes of the EA or the HSE would take a dim view of this one. The consequences could have been worse than a hedge. A drainage ditch feeding a river for example.

  2. Interesting. A sad accident then.
    Looks like Giles was the only one who guessed correctly at the time? And to a lesser extent Errol.
    Thanks for the update.

    Who called the “so-called knowledgeable” knowlegeable by the way?

  3. That is very sad. Sympathy for all involved. Thanks for the update.

    Given the quality of the hedge and the now well publicized problems with planting, if it were me I’d only consider replanting as a very very last resort. Might be better to play the long game of a slow and patch recovery together with whatever self sown new stuff can germinate. Uncertain outcome yes but removing the remains of the old hedge if it doesn’t appear to be coming back to life, and replacing it, surely more damaging and risky?

    1. You hope.

      Roundup is a systemic herbicide used for the control of woody weeds!

      I predict a crop of cleavers over the bleached bones of a once beautiful hedge.

  4. Having read the statement again I’m surprised the hedge hadn’t recovered in 2014 given that it was sprayed in autumn 2013. I’ve been spraying roundup in the past when a freak gust of wind caused a bit of spray to waft into a hedge, but I’ve never seen a hedge die or show any symptoms as a result of this. Glyphosate is systemic so needs active green leaf to take it up, or damaged/cut stems in the case of woody growth. I’m wondering whether the hedge had recently been flailed to allow the glyphosate into the plants.

  5. Almost certainly just a bad accident but lets correct one likely mistake in the comments he almost certainly had the boom up in the travelling position for being on the road,tucked up in the air otherwise it would almost certainly caught on something and broke off.
    This probably accounts for the verge not being seriously affected.
    Yes farmers are not protected from making mistakes and I suspect all of us on here make them,in fact it costs many farmers their lives each year,this is after all only a hedge that will recover or be replaced and in time will get back to its former glory.
    As Ernest says it was almost impossible to stop the chemical having this effect especially as the amount of water to do any good would be more than any sprayer could put on,it would need seriously washing off quickly,manageable on small patch in garden but not on a long section of hedge.

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