John Lichfield: Cereal killers and bungalows lead a Norman conquest

Normandy Notebook

Related Topics

In Normandy, April is the loveliest month. The apple trees, a little late this year, are nearly in blossom. Primroses, cowslips and wild daffodils shine in the verges and hedgerows. Cows graze in rich, green pastures – those hedges and those cows and those pastures that survive, that is.

A long stretch of ancient hedgerow – maybe 300 metres, maybe 200 years old – has been torn out close to our village in the Calvados hills this spring. The mutilated roadside now looks like a gum with no teeth in it. As a result, the farmer from the next commune, who rents the land, will be able to plant another couple of rows of triffids.

Triffids are what we call the tall, ugly stalks of maize which have progressively invaded the Calvados countryside in the past decade. The maize is grown for cows to eat. In Normandy the maize has gobbled up the cows – and the hedges.

Just more than half the dairy farms in some of the finest dairy country in the world have disappeared in the past 15 years – including both the dairy farms in our village.

Lower Normandy used to be celebrated for its hedges – the "bocage country" in which tiny fields were enclosed by lateral woodlands as thick as castle walls. It was this landscape which grievously hampered the British and American armies in the weeks after D-Day in June 1944.

Most of the bocage has long gone. In the 1970s, the French government encouraged farmers to swap, and then join up, their jumbled scraps of land. The hedges were torn out to make bigger fields.

In recent years, many of the remaining hedges around the enlarged fields have fallen to the cereal killers. Our tiny hamlet (permanent population: 11) was an island of relative, hedge-enclosed beauty when we bought our house 12 years ago. The destruction of a first, long stretch of hedge suggests that our immunity is over.

Triffids are not the only invaders. There are new blotches of bright colour shining in the Calvados countryside this spring: not primroses and cowslips but constellations of pale-peach or cream pavillons (bungalows), which may be visible from the moon. The suburbs of the city of Caen, 20 miles to the north, are scattering bungalow seeds which are taking root in what was, until a few years ago, deep countryside.

There are no peach bungalows in our hamlet yet but a score of them have been built in the main village, just over a mile away. When the hedges go, can bungalows be far behind?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Residents of the Gravesham constituency are 10 times closer to what Peter Hain scorns as the “Westminster elite” than are those of Linlithgow and East Falkirk  

Will no one stop the march of localism?

Jonathan Meades
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam