The skill behind hedgelaying
The skill of traditional hedgelaying is declining despite the many ecological benefits using it offers. Our countryside volunteers are part of a decreasing number who are able to learn the art.
Managing the hedgerows
Hedgelaying is a way of managing hedgerows to ensure that they remain an impermeable barrier for livestock, and do not succeed into a line of large trees with sizable gaps in-between. Hedgelaying 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.
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.
Ecological benefits of hedgelaying
As well as being a traditional rural skill, and therefore having intrinsic value, hedgelaying 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.