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.