Distinguished from a windbreak by the lower height of its plants, a hedgerow is quite simply a line of bushes and trees with accompanying undergrowth. Common to the British Isles and now under protection by custom and law in England, hedgerows provide a semipermeable fence around pastures and fields, and a partial restoration of habitat, especially for birds, otherwise compromised by tillage. Hedgerows are an agricultural concept brought to the United States by the earliest British settlers in the Northeast, though predated by indigenous agricultural cultures throughout the Americas. On large and corporate farms, naturally arising hedgerows along fence lines—pejoratively called dirty fences—are eliminated by mowing and herbicides, while advocates of sustainable agriculture argue in favor of such hedgerows for their beneficent effects on habitat, water conservation, erosion control, and insect control by resident birds. Hedgerows—“dirty” and otherwise—remain common in agricultural regions, particularly where farming is intensive, as it is in parts of New England, the South, and California. In his poem “The Clerk’s Tale,” Spencer Reese writes: “We dart amongst the aisles tall as hedgerows.” And in The Gift of Good Land, Wendell Berry quotes the anthropologist Stephen Brush on the agricultural practices of the Andean peasants of Peru: “They protect their land against erosion by . . . the use of hedgerows and horizontal plowing, and by field rotation.”

John Keeble