The Last Task Before Christmas

Chew Moor, Lostock and Jumbles Country Park- Hedge Work

‘Twas the last tasks before Christmas, and across the woods,
A chainsaw was growling, but doing some good,
The hedges need laying to make them look neat,
In hopes that when done it would all look awreet.
The pleaches were cut, they didn’t look bad,
In months to come it would make wildlife glad.
The brash we collected and placed in a pile,
But some of our workers at it did not smile.
So, we re-made a dead hedge all neat and ti-dy,
And soon all were happy and feeling joll-y.
No snow had fallen to blanket the ground,
Yet cold as it was but we didn’t slow down,
In hats like old Santa’s, and Grinch headgear, too,
We worked the day long, we worked the day through.
At lunch time we rested, with hot tea and food,
Exchanges of cards, put us in Christmas mood.
Then back to the work for the BCV crew,
Till the sun dropped down low and temperatures too.
The task day now over, the work was all done,
Away tools were packed, we were ready to run.
But one last stop before a Christmas blest,
The Crofters pub, for a drink and a rest.
Then home we did go, to warmth and dry feet,
It would again be a while before we next meet.
And so ends the year along with this verse,
It wasn’t too bad and it could have been worse.
Merry Christmas to all, we hope you had fun,
And from January onwards we’ll look forward to the sun.

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.

Hedge Wars 2020

Our 2020 Dr John Leather Memorial Hedgelaying Competition was held on 23rd February 2020 and saw us return to Blackleach Country Park, the last time we were here was in 2013. The competition is held in memory or Dr. John Leather, a retired Bolton GP and enthusiastic hedgelayer. Before Dr. John passed away in 2003 he was BCV’s hedge Jedi master, he taught us the ways of the pleach and billhook and how to be at one with the hedge.

The competition is intended to help bring new generations to the noble art of hedge laying. To help achieve this teams are usually made up of a novice and experienced hedgelayer, a master and an apprentice. This year we had 5 teams of 2 fighting it out with the dark side, by the end of the day 2 teams triumphed: the runners up were Steve Durbar and Neil Birtles and the winning team was Dave Moore and Anna Cocker. The teams win possession of the 2nd place prize, a kukri, similar to the one used by Dr. John, and the Fabled Silver Bill Hook of Blackleach for first place. Well done teams and may the pleach be with you.