Letting the hedges grow

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Hedges are a quintessential part of our countryside. They distinctively define many rural landscapes, from Arden’s high hollies to Exmoor’s beech banks. As well as delineating ownership, sub-dividing land into manageable units, sheltering livestock and controlling soil erosion, hedges also offer perfect and varied wildlife habitats. They are alive with insects, birds, mammals. At these ‘safe junctions’, so much essential business of life gets carried out.

The Enclosure Acts of the 18th Century led to 200,000 miles of new hedges. Open fields and common lands were divided into smaller spaces. But over half of this has disappeared since 1950; replaced by much larger, open and uniform spaces. The adverse effect on the well-being of a huge range of plants and animals is extensively documented.

Is there a parallel with the places we work in? The large ‘open plan’ office is now the most common approach to the modern working environment. They’re cheaper than lots of smaller rooms and you can change the layout more easily if circumstances dictate.

But where are the safe junctions? The passing places for unplanned social contact and easy conversation? The cosy spots to be apart? The little available research on the impact of open plan offices seems to point to a pretty hefty list of drawbacks for staff.

Getting the best working environment needs careful thought. Helpfully, there are plenty of ideas on how to balance the competing needs of cost, flexibility, productivity and well-being. Companies like Herman Miller point to design principles such as:

– creating information and resource-rich spaces that get people thinking and help them follow up on ideas and conversations

– making sure sufficient quiet and private places are available

– allowing people more control of their environment, to adapt it to the work they’re doing as that changes over time.

Maybe you should let the different sorts of hedges grow a bit more where you work?

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