Hedges and hedge laying

Hedgelaying Introduced
Hello. In my last blog I talked about one of our winter tasks which was coppicing. In this blog I’d like to bring you up to date on our winter work by talking about our hedgelaying programme at Sissinghurst.

A few facts first though. Since the Second World War approximately 200,000 miles of hedgerow have been lost. Of those post was years, between 1984 and 1990 there was a further decline of hedgerow length of 20%. The vast majority of these losses since the war were due to change in farming practices, where larger farm machinery made it easier and quicker to work large open crop fields than smaller individual fields. That meant tearing out hedgerows. Further loss can also be attributed to bad management, but this has improved due to government legislation brought in to protect hedgerows as an important habitat.

Here at Sissinghurst, as part of our funding for HLS (Higher Level Stewardship) we are actively involved in laying new hedges and teaching the skills to our volunteers. Similar to coppicing, hedges can be laid between November and late February. During these months disturbance to wildlife is at its most minimal, as birds will not be seeking to build nests in the small trees we would be laying.

Hedgelaying in theory is easy, but it takes experience and time to produce a good looking hedge. To start with, the tree is cut leaving a thin connection to the stem and laying uphill (always uphill as sap rises and will generate new growth), at about 30 degrees in the line of the new hedge (See below).

New Image4Cut material laying at 30 degrees

Once laid, stakes are then knocked in at approx 18inch intervals ready to receive the binders. The binders, normally long whippy lengths of hazel ash or willow, are what will hold the hedge together. They are woven in and out of the stakes and pushed firmly down to hold the laid hedge together.

New Image3The binders hold the stakes, and thus the hedge, into place

Before any trimming is done, all hedge material is tucked into the hedge-line as much as possible. This helps fill any gaps and create a better looking hedge. Finally the stakes are knocked in more firmly as the action of putting in the binders might well have loosened them and any material that cannot be tucked in is cut away (leaving sufficient growth either side). If there are still gaps of any size then these can be filled by extra planting. Typical tree species when planting a hedgerow that will be laid in time include hazel, hawthorn and blackthorn.

New Image2A completed hedge after trimming

This is by no means an extensive guide to hedgelaying, merely a quick taster via this blog. For those wishing to find out more about the differing styles of hedgelaying: the terminology, differing techniques and tools involved, then there is a host of information on the internet. Or better still… put yourself down for one of our hedgelaying courses run at Sissinghurst and Smallhythe!

Speak to you again soon.
Paul (Ranger)

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