Hedgerows are not something you would ordinarily think of as cash crops, but if you plant with foresight there is money to be made. For example, at Christmas time everybody is looking for handsome sprigs of holly with berries. If you had a row of holly trees with a good mix of male and females (to encourage fertilisation), you'd probably have enough berried holly to make it worth harvesting. There is always a local shortage of holly, especially in towns and cities. When there's a shortage of something people want, they'll pay premium prices to get it.
If you had some mistletoe to go with that you'd be away in a hack. Mistletoe is however a parasite plant so you'd best grow it on some fast-growing silver birch, which it will happily colonise. Mixed hedgerows are the best. The diversity of a mixed hedge allows each specimen to thrive in its own space. If you need stock-proofing use black or white thorn bushes and keep them trimmed low to thicken and to give your fruiting plants some space. You can intersperse different trees, allowing them to grow higher, creating a double layer.
Nut trees are excellent choices to add variety to your hedgerows. Hazels do well in partial shade so can be planted with faster-growing timber species and can begin to crop within ten years. Cob nuts take a little longer but they are suitable substitutes for pine nuts. Walnuts need to be grown in isolation as their roots attack other trees with a very jealous chemical, but as specimens in the middle of a field you could hardly think of a more handsome tree, and in twenty years or less you will have lashings of delicious nuts. Sweet chestnuts are beautiful fast-growing trees with excellent timber and delicious edible nuts after around ten years.
Sugar Maples produce a rich sap from which maple syrup is made. This can be easily tapped once the tree is strong and healthy, after about twenty years. It seems like a lifetime until you look back and realise how short it is. That's why they say the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago!
In recent years people have gotten very fond of foraging for wild fruits. If you have a rim of land to spare beside a stream or in a loop, it could be worth planting an edible hedgerow with lots of types of fruit trees including crab apples, plums, raspberries, blueberries and wild strawberries (on a south facing bank would be ideal). You could also include different kind of roses to produce rose hips, sloes (blackthorn), elders for spring (flowers for champagne and cordials) and autumn foraging (berries for wine). This type of walkway would attract urban dwellers with a taste for country life and if you present it carefully there is potential to earn money from fruit pickers. Alternatively, you could pick the fruit yourself and make wild Irish jams and other exotic preserves.
There are lots of reasons for planting hedgerows. They bring shape to our fields and they can provide many benefits to farm animals including shelter and supplementary nutrition. They also provide habitat for wildlife, more valuable now than ever. By planning what you intend to put in you can combine these benefits with some additional cash-back. Timber species like lime, ash, beech, whitebeam, oak and rowan can also be used. Most of these trees produce suitable timber for wood turning, carving and other crafts. The beauty of supplying such industries is that you don't have to cut the tree down, but can produce plenty of wood by periodically pollarding (cutting off branches).
It's the right time of year to be considering hedgerows. Most bare root trees and shrubs are best planted in winter so that their roots are well watered in for spring. You don't have to buy all your trees. Many of these are wild plants with hardy sapling cousins popping up on field margins like blackthorn, ash, oak, rowan and so on. Willow, used in traditional boat building and thatching, is very easy to grow from rods or slips, as is alder. By being opportunist, you can get some lovely specimen trees for nothing more than a little effort. For example, large lime trees will often produce runners. These can be hacked out carefully and planted. Not all will grow but surprisingly many do.
So have think about it and see if there's not a corner or field boundary that could be bringing in some extra cash in years to come.