Hedge laying is a task that we complete with the help of our volunteers throughout the winter months, from October till March, while the growth stage of the hedge is dormant and it is unlikely for birds to be nesting in this season. Hedge laying is a traditional agricultural skill dating all the way back to Celtic times, been first mentioned in Julius Caesar’s ‘Commentaries on the Gallic Wars’ and is still in practice in the UK.
The use of hedge laying in the UK took a major hit after the Second World War due to many factors, including the lack of labour available to maintain the hedges in the traditional way, causing them to grow out into sparse lines more like a line of small trees, the rise in the use of wire and wire mesh to contain animals and marker land, the invention and wider use of machines designed to cut hedges and trees and changes in land use increasing land use for agricultural purposes, the increase in agricultural mechanisation saw many hedgerows grubbed out to increase field sizes.
The practice of hedge laying is still used in the UK for several reasons, such as an environmentally friendly alternative to fencing, creating a weather protective shield for cattle and crops, maintaining a habitat for rural wildlife and as an aesthetical screen for fields and gardens. Traditionally hedge laying would have been completed using billhooks, shears and axe/hatchets, and now loppers, small chainsaws are also used as well. With Hedge laying the process cannot be seen in its full light till the spring and once completed it normally looks quite ropey and messy when all cut up, but this allows the lower areas to access light in the spring allowing the whole shrub to grow from top to bottom creating a thicker, more consistent hedge.
Over the last couple of weeks those of you who have volunteered with us will have heard Nick explain that there are many different versions of hedge laying and why they are performed in this form, listed below are a few of the more popular styles used in the UK and a short explanation of how the styles differ and what they are primarily used for:
There are many other types of hedging, and the tradition seems to be enjoying a revival as the techniques are used more to help establish and maintain the rural and urban countryside, if you are interested in learning more about Hedge laying there are a couple of sites you can visit including:
With most countryside-based skills, there are no specific Hedge layers, but every farmer contributed when needed so everyone would have needed to know how to do this. Therefore, it’s a great volunteer activity, allowing our volunteers to learn the basic techniques and be able to make and see a positive overall contribution.