Alex James: Hedge find worthy of the investment

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

There's an overgrown beech hedge in the back garden that I've been repairing for the last three years. I suppose it did look more like a wood than a hedge to start with, but still: three years on one hedge?

The magic moment came last week when a team of three men came to take the straggly top off and a perfectly formed baby hedge emerged from the jumble. Our patience was rewarded. I mean, it always is. It's all worthwhile but my, oh my, what a fiddle.

If you're willing to adopt a slightly less formal approach it's amazing how much one man can do in one week with a really big digger.

I've always liked the spot down by the railway line. I've just left it to do its thing since we got here. Not by design, particularly, but on that chunk of land, an acre or two hasn't been farmed for generations. Previous owners buried favourite their horses down there, hid asbestos, things like that, but it had become completely impassable over the last couple of years and the plan was to send in one man with one digger for one week and see what we ended up with.

Yesterday evening, for the first time this year, the sun was irresistibly warm on my face and it drew me into the outside. I couldn't help myself. I was overwhelmed by long forgotten feelings: the unexpected kiss of clemency and a certain sense of spring. Before I knew what I was doing I was on my way down there to see what had happened. A heron rose off the pond and skirted the woods low, heralding my arrival. All the confusing undergrowth had been removed, just a few handsome specimen trees were left. A couple of huge oaks as old as the hills plus one on its side, host to a hundred kinds of creepy-crawly. Ditches that have long sat stagnant were all a-gurgling and a-bubbling and where there had been a bog was a lake with an island in the middle. It was muddy from the caterpillar tracks and I realised I'd ruined my last decent pair of shoes.

No need for duck feet

Now I just have to wait for the ducks to move in to the reclaimed island. In the past it was home to dozens of nesting pairs. The water acts as a moat that keeps the foxes out. There is actually a secret underwater path to the island, so you can just about walk to it in a pair of wellies but you need to make sure that the fox doesn't see you.

A fantastic encounter

Funnily enough, I saw the first fox I've seen for quite some time on my way down to the duck pond. It's so long since I've seen one it actually stopped my heart when I caught sight of it darting down the hedge line. So sleek it made the sheep in that field look really badly designed.