The Barlow: Hedge Laying For Beginners

The Barlow, Edgworth, 9th January 2022

Hedgerows are not a naturally occurring feature of the landscape, they are a consequence of human land management. The oldest hedgerows date back to the Bronze Age and were originally remnant woodlands left around land that had been cleared for farming or settlements. Over the centuries these leftovers became an established method of creating field boundaries and an important feature of our landscape, increasing in usage through Roman times and the Medieval era.

The Barlow's woodland.
The Barlow’s woodland.

As farming became more mechanised, and post-war intensive farming practices were implemented to feed a growing population, hedges were destroyed to reclaim a few extra yards of farm land, in doing so they changed a landscape that had endured for generations. What wasn’t fully appreciated was the impact this had on wild life. Wild life had taken advantage of this human creation; nesting birds, pollinating insects, wild mammals all found a home or sanctuary in hedgerows. As hedgerows were systematically destroyed biodiversity and species populations fell. By the mid 1990s the loss of hedgerows had largely stopped, but by then many hundreds of thousands of miles of hedge had been lost.

Thankfully, the conservation value of hedges has been recognised and hedges are making a comeback.

If left alone hedges will start to fail within a few decades, individual shrubs become thick and woody and gaps appear in the hedge as they die, the hedge soon loses its form and function. Hedge laying is the best way to manage a hedgerow. Hedge laying prolongs the life of the hedge, improves its function as a field boundary and provides increased habitat for wild life. There are many styles of laid hedge, BCV use a Lancashire style which, while being a bit rustic in appearance, is very effective. The methods of laying a hedge are also varied. On today’s task two methodologies were used: using a bill hook and using a saw.

Generally the process for both is the same: decide which way direction the hedge is being laid, if the land slopes upward that’s the direction the stem or pleach should go. Next clean up the side branches of the stem you’re working on. If you are using a saw make a cut two thirds of the into the stem several inches above the ground on the opposite side of the stem to the direction you want to lay it; if you’re using a bill hook slice downwards to that point from a point a foot or so up the stem so that the cut tapers inward. Then the stem, or pleach, is bent over in the direction you want it to go. Repeat with each pleach until the hedgerow is complete. Hammering stakes as you go along gives the newly laid hedge support.

BCV and Barlow Volunteers.
BCV and Barlow Volunteers.

On today’s task Rick was training the Barlow volunteers how to lay a hedge, assisted by Francis, Neil, and Dave. Rick is the only fully accredited member of the National Hedge Laying Society working in Greater Manchester and has trained people of every age and level of experience from school children to conservation professionals. Other members of the team used the brash to create a dead hedge. Big cheer for everyone involved.

BCV News Snippets

January 2022

Our hybrid indoor meetings continue to run successfully, here are a few items that deserve a mention:

Thank you to Dorothy and Paul Rigby for their recent donation made in loving memory of their friend Ruth Heard. The money will be put to good use. Also thanks to Barb and Trevor Hackett, and Richard Smythe for their respective donations which are very much appreciated.

Andrew’s re-wilding project is moving forward with support from the Wildlife Trust.

Well done to Joe on his new job with the Woodland Trust.

Finally many thanks to Yogi and the Nam Ploy restaurant for the excellent meal and appreciated support.

June 2021

2015: Fan Pit Cottage pond building.
2015: Fan Pit Cottage pond building.

Fan Pit Cottages
We had an email from Anne at Fan Pit Cottages, I’ve shortened it slightly but the full version has been sent to Rick.

Just wanted to update you about my little project to attract more wildlife to our area. You might remember laying a hedge and clearing some of the land adjacent to our house at Fan Pit cottages. We were fighting a battle with Japanese Knotweed, which we have almost won!

In 2015 you created a pond for us, which has been very successful, attracting newts and toads almost immediately. Unfortunately this year a pair of mallards have decided to trash it, ripping weed out and feeding on the occupants of the pond, so I have covered it. I would love to create more ponds! We have planted a variety of trees, wild cherry and Rowan, with a few others. Sadly some of our mature trees have been affected by ash die back, so I did quite a lot of research to find trees that were suited to our clay soil and resistant to diseases.

We have a lot of marsh orchids this year and I am slowly adding more wild plants that survive the conditions. We still have hares living near the big pond, at the bottom of the field and deer have been spotted there too. Please pass on our good wishes to Rick and all the volunteers who remember coming to us. I can’t thank you enough for all your help and wish you could come again. Kindest Regards, Anne.

The Old Normal?
Good news, from July BCV will be returning to it original format of having tasks every two weeks. In addition there will be no need to book ahead for a place on task, just turn up on the day. Tasks will be starting a 10:00am until further notice and the meeting point for each task will be noted on task calendar. Transportation is still an issue though, any one needing transport to the site should contact Tom well before the task date so that arrangements can be made. Although it’s a big step towards business as usual, we still need to take care and maintain appropriate safety measures in the interests of protecting our volunteers.

May 2021


Return of the Hipster
Good news, Rick has had his hip operation and is recovering. He dropped in on our Moses Gate reedbed task to say hello, after a chat he carried on to Rock Hall to see how things were going over there with our second team. More details of the task will appear in a post shortly. Hopefully Rick will be back out on task as his usual self soon.


Going Bananas
BCV has joined forces with Banana Enterprises to help restore the grounds of Moses Gate Country Park as part of their Rock Hall restoration project. We have a number of tasks planned throughout the year so keep an eye on the task calendar.


April 2021

We have Returned
Well we’re back at work again with our recent tasks at Firwood, but there have been a few other activities that you might not know about.

Blackleach Hibernaculum
We’ve finally got a digger in to finish the ponds and the hibernaculum. See the Blackleach Hibernaculum post for more info.

John Franklin
The Wildlife trust has created a memorial woodland to John at Seven Acres. See the John Franklin post for words and pictures.

Hip Dude
Rick is scheduled for a second hip replacement (sorry no pictures) in a few weeks, but tasks will continue with guest task leaders taking up the whip. Best wishes to Rick from everyone.


Fawcett Mill Fields: There and Back Again

Fawcett Mill Fields, Cumbria 26-28th November 2021

Many Meetings
One of the things that had been a feature of the BCV calendar for as long as anyone can remember were the residential weekends, or as we call them Resi’s. Our last resi before the time of Covid was in January 2020 at the Anderton Centre, since then those weekend retreats had been badly missed. So, when Sam and Rich offered us the chance to swap landscapes of brick, concrete and tarmac for those of high hills, steep valleys and gushing rivers we couldn’t say no.

Rich and Sam
Rich and Sam

Fawcett Mill Fields is Rich Greenwood and Sam Kitchen’s new venture, holiday accommodation in buildings that were once part of a water mill. The mill buildings date back to the early 1700s’s, but a mill existed on or around this site as part of Gaisgill Hall as far back as the 1300s. Sadly, previous owners had buried the mill machinery under concrete in less enlightened times, but many other features still remained including the Grade II Listed packhorse bridge over the Rais Beck. It was in this setting that we became Rich and Sam’s first guests, and in return we would be building a dipping platform and laying a hedge.

Seventeen volunteers made the journey, all of us taking at least one lateral flow test in the previous 24 hours, the only unwanted thing to come with us was Storm Arwen. This Arwen was no Elven princess, and as the last of us arrived at Fawcett Mill high winds and snow were already battering the buildings and coating the roads in glittering white. Thankfully Sam and Rich had prepared hot meals for us all, it was like reaching Rivendell after being chased across the moors by howling wraiths; this last homely house was to be our home for the next two days.

In Glades Beneath The Misty Fell
After a night of socialising, and not much sleep our day began with breakfast, followed by second breakfast in some cases, and preparations for the day ahead. The plan was to begin work on the dipping platform on the other side of the packhorse bridge, so we gathered the tools and set out. Over night the temperature had gone from cold to really cold, and the icy chill could be felt even on double gloved hands and double socked toes, but we weren’t going to be put off by a little cold weather.

As we looked at the beautiful countryside it was clear that the site had a wealth of wild life: blue tit, great tit, coal tit, robin, nuthatch, blackbird, chaffinch, and dipper were some of the birds present, but earlier Sam had seen salmon leaping up the waterfalls, and there was also a magical red squirrel that disappeared into the trees not to be seen again all weekend. We were in nature lovers heaven, and we wanted to make it ours.

Red Squirrell
Red squirrel at Fawcett Mill Fields.

The site of the dipping platform was at the end of a small pond and the first job was to remove the vegetation and level out the soil. That done we hammered twenty wooden posts into the ground to support the platform. Sounds simple but the rocks beneath the soil made a straight forward job into hard work, as a result some of the posts were a little bit misaligned, but with a bit of ingenuity we managed to make it work. After fitting a weed suppressing sheet around the posts, joists were screwed in place and the posts cut down to size. Finally boards were fixed and fitted to make the platform’s surface, the work being finished on Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, another team worked on laying the hedge at the side of the road. A ragged hedge was trimmed and treated to the BCV hedge laying style creating habitat for birds. Trees were cut back and pruned and everything made neat and tidy. As with the dipping platform the work was spread over two days but both jobs came to an abrupt end as the snow began to fall, but more about that later.

A Long Expected Party
The weekend wasn’t all work and no play. As it happened the trip coincided with Carol’s 75th birthday, so a celebration was arranged. Cakes were brought and decorated by Jane, songs were sung and mugs of beer were drunk, as too were most of the volunteers. As the round moon rolled behind the hill there were riddle games and guessing games, and leg pulling and hair pulling long into the night. One by one the celebrants drifted off to bed and slept the sleep of heroes.

Happy Birthday, Carol.
Happy Birthday, Carol.

Many Partings
Sadly all things end and the weekend’s fellowship was broken by the return of Storm Arwen. As we finished fixing the last planks of the dipping platform and the last pleaches of the hedge the snow began to fall heavy and thick and the risk of being snowed in was suddenly very real. The team quickly packed their bags and gathered up the tools. With the help of Rich and Karl, a quad bike, and bag fulls of salt we made our escape down slippery roads back to the world of concrete, brick and tarmac.

Many thanks to Sam, Rich and Karl for their hospitality and superb meals, we all look forward to coming back soon; thanks to Tom and Caroline, and Rick, for co-ordinating everything; thanks to Lynn, Justine, Katrina and the cooking crew for breakfasts, second breakfasts, and lunches; thanks to all of the volunteers who made it a great weekend; and finally thanks to all of the drivers for getting all of us safely there and back again.

The packhorse bridge.
The packhorse bridge.

Also, thanks to Francis for three of the photos.

John Franklin

December 17th 2020

No year should end with sad news but this year continues to take more than it gives.

Our friend John Franklin has passed away due to covid complications.

John wasn’t just a volunteer, he was a shoulder anyone could lean on. You didn’t even need to ask, he’d just be there ready to listen to any problem you had. He’d encourage and support, and not judge. You couldn’t know John and not like him, John found many friends in BCV.

He volunteered not only with BCV but also The Wildlife Trust, and the Trust’s Men in Sheds group, a group that helps isolated men find a place and a purpose in the community. John’s ability to connect with people helped these lost individuals open up and find themselves, he probably saved many men from lives of misery and despair with just a few simple words.

John was someone whose friendship and humanity should be aspired to by everyone. His loss is a tragedy for his family, friends, the community and all who knew him. Love and condolences to John’s family, we are all thinking of you.

John’s funeral was on 7th January, at 12:00 noon at the west chapel, Overdale Cemetery. Only a limited number of people was allowed to attend, 10 family and 9 from the volunteer groups John was part of.

The family has asked for donations to be made to the British Lung Foundation in John’s memory, if that is something you would like to do.

11/04/21 – Planting John’s Orchard
As a mark of remembrance the Wildlife Trust decided to dedicate part of Seven Acres Country Park to John Franklin. The site was one of one’s favourite parts of the Country Park and he would often visit it with his wife, Evelyn.

Eighty trees, including hornbeam and birch, and various fruit trees, were planted across 2 days by members of John’s family and members of the various groups John was a part of, including BCV. There are also plans to install a bench at a later date. Photos have been added below along with photos of John working with BCV.

Many thanks to everyone who has left comments below.

Halloween Hall of Horrors


‘Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world. Now could I drink hot blood
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on.

-Hamlet-


For the last few years BCV has held Halloween themed tasks to celebrate the season of the witch, but with this year’s real global horror story limiting our undead lives, our ghoul fest has had to be chopped down in size. So, to remind us all how zombies danced and werewolves howled here’s a few creepy pics from previous years. Here’s to raising spirits.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Parker

Congratulations to BCV Chairman, co-ordinator, newt wrangler, and hedge jedi, Rick Parker on reaching the age of 70 on 9th September. Richard Parker, not to be confused with the the tiger of the same name in The Life of Pi, although just as impressive, was born at a young age and immediately started to grow to an outlandish height. After graduating with a useful qualification he found work at the NHS where it wasn’t much use to him at all. But, he also joined the fledgling Bolton Conservation Volunteers and in 1986 took over the operation and whipped a disparate team of misfits into a credible force for conservation.

Rick, took BCV to new heights of success winning multiple awards along the way such as, BMBC’s The Golden Elephant Award, Bolton News Green Hero Award (twice), The Cabinet Office’s Points of Light Award, to name a few, and more free meals than anyone has ever seen.

Rick is an acknowledge expert on amphibians and dragonflies and not only has given lectures to the great and learned he has also appeared in full colour on the radio, written stuff for books, and on occasion has hob nobbed with royalty.. or so he says. Rick’s conservation expertise and ability to talk to anyone non-stop has been key to his success at what he does.

Since ‘retiring’ from the depths of the the hospital he has carved out a career as a freelance hedge jedi, and was the first National Hedgelaying Society Accredited hedge layer in Greater Manchester. He also spends time teaching Bolton’s younglings the way of the newt at various schools around the borough… AND continues to co-ordinate BCV activities. That’s 70 years well spent.

Rick’s Rickisms are legendary and we pull his leg and dig his ribs, but BCV is BCV because of Rick and we wouldn’t have Rick any other way. Happy 70th Birthday from everyone, Rick, may the sun always shine on your pond.