The skill behind hedge-laying

Helping the Rangers with laying a hedge

The skill of traditional hedge-laying is declining despite the many ecological benefits using it offers. Our countryside volunteers join a decreasing number of people working in the countryside who have these important skills.

Managing the hedgerows

Hedge-laying is a way of managing hedgerows to ensure that they remain an impermeable barrier for livestock, and do not grow unchecked and develop sizable gaps in-between. Hedge-laying has been practiced ever since humans began to keep, and need to contain, stock.

It has declined in recent years due to the decrease in available labour, and increases in hedge cutting machinery and cheaper alternatives such as barbed wire fencing.

Can I have a go?

Absolutely! In the winter months we have Countryside Ranger Days, where you can lay hedges with us and learn all about volunteering and conservation in East Devon. 

Please visit the 'What's On' for more details, and for booking information.

How do you lay a hedge?

The basic method involves cutting the majority of the way through the stem/trunk of each tree and “laying” it down along the line of the hedge, on top of the previous tree. This creates a slanted, fencelike structure, which new shoots should grow vertically up from in spring.

There are a variety of different styles, some incorporating stakes, binders or banks, each designed to suit the geography and farming methods of the region in which they are practiced.

wide view of completed hedge
wide view of completed hedge
wide view of completed hedge

Ecological benefits of hedge-laying

As well as being a traditional rural skill, and therefore having intrinsic value, hedge-laying offers a number of ecological benefits. Primarily, by having a hedge and not removing field boundaries (to create larger plots) or using fencing, a large amount of highly valuable habitat is made available to wildlife. Hedgerows are often associated with BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) species, which provide food sources and nest sites for a huge variety of insects, birds and mammals.

Hedges can also help prevent soil erosion, capture pollutants, and allow wildlife to move more freely across the countryside. By managing the hedge by laying, the trees are encouraged to regenerate; this extends their life, and that of the hedge as a whole. It also creates a constant supply of new, bushy growth, providing cover for a greater number of species.