This article appeared in the Autumn 1972 (Issue #29) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
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Dr Max Hooper of the Nature Conservancy has propounded a simple method of estimatihg the age of a hedge by its flora. The basic idea is that one counts the number of different kinds of shrub the hedge contains in a series of lengths of thirty yards. The results should then be averaged and this will give one the age of the hedge in centuries. For example, five different kinds of shrub will give an estimated age of five hundred years. The broad idea has been the subject of a good deal of testing.
Some local variations occur and Professor W G Hoskins (Field Work in Local History, Faber & Faber, price 75p) recommends that there should be a correlation in the given area using hedges where their age can be documented and then the hedges for which there are no records could be dated by this method. His chapter on dating hedges contains some useful suggestions for documentary sources, but his description of the counting method was written when the theory was first propounded and should not now be followed.
Only proper, independent shrub species which will grow into bushes should be counted (hawthorn, ash, holly, maple, etc.), while plants such as bramble, nettles, ivy and bryony should be disregarded. Collins Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers is a comprehensive reference book for an exercise such as this, but the company of a good naturalist is invaluable.