Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hedge Laying

Here's a sight that you don't see very often these days - a newly laid hedge. I found this old picture, that I must have taken fifteen years ago, amongst some old colour transparencies. The fresh, new cuckoo pint leaves at the bottom of the hedge show that it was a very early spring day and I can remember stopping the car to take the picture, somewhere between Kirkby Stephen and Sedburgh in the Howgills. This is a very laborious method of hedge management but when hedge laying is well done it produces a stock-proof barrier that will last for decades with only minimal maintenance. Young hawthorn stems are partially severed, bent over and then tied into stakes, then...


... when spring arrives vigorous new, prickly shoots grow up through the laid stems and produce a living, interlocking barrier. There are some very fine examples to be seen on the National Hedgelaying Society web site. It must be hard work, tough on the hands with all those hawthorn spines, so I guess it's no wonder that flail cutting hedges with a tractor has taken over, but although that keeps hedges in shape it can never produce the dense growth at the bottom of a laid hedge that stops a sheep pushing its way through. Annual flail cutting also tends to remove all of last year's young shoots that bear flowers buds - so no flowers for insects in early summer or haws for the birds to feed on in autumn.


You can often see old hawthorns that were once part of hedges that were laid in the distant past. The horizontal branches with vertical growths are a tell-tale sign ...
















Long ago, someone must have spent several days laying this old hedge ......























... and you can still see the legacy of their work in the distinctive silhouettes of these ancient hawthorns.

11 comments:

  1. Fascinating, don;t think there are many traditional hedges around here...
    stone fences were the thing with all these glacial deposits.

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  2. Once again you improve my appreciation of what I see. Thanks.

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  3. It's very satisfying work (although it's a long time ago that I did a little BTCV voluntary work). Highly recommended.

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  4. A very very interesting post. I have not seen hedge laying before, it is not done here. The pictures of hawthorn are fascinating.

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  5. A couple of summers ago a man was doing some maintenance work on the hawthorn hedge at the top of the pit bank at Willington, and that was how he was doing the work.... bending over the branches, etc. He was there for days doing the whole hedge. I think he was from the woodland trust.

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  6. Hi Valerianna, we have mostly drystone walls here in the Durham Dales - at least up on the fells.

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  7. Hi Adrian, I've got great admiration for the craftsmen that do this work ..... it's good to know that there are still people around that do it.

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  8. Hi Mark, since I posted this several people have told me about BTCV hedge laying projects. I don't think the artritis in my thumbs would stand up to that kind of work!

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  9. Thanks Masha, it's amazing how quickly hawthorn comes into leaf at the first sign of spring...

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  10. Hi Lesley - I must take a diversion up there and have a look at his work..

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