Hedgerows have been a traditional part of the UK landscape for hundreds of years and can be seen across the patchwork quilt of fields in the British countryside. In addition to providing attractive stock-proof barriers for farmers, they have also been used for screening purposes too. There are more than 500,000 miles of hedgerows in the UK, only half of what there used to be. Hedgerows can be planted to soak up water and can reduce the risk of flooding too.
What purpose does Hedgelaying serve?
Hedgelaying is a management solution for overgrown hedges widely practised throughout the UK and Europe during the winter months. A traditional country craft that rejuvenates existing hedgerows by encouraging them to put on new growth, Hedgelaying improves the overall structure and strength of a hedge providing protection for crops and wildlife.
A hedge that has been correctly managed will provide a healthy habitat for wildlife compared to a hedge that has either overgrown, collapsed or has been overmanned by hard trimming annually as when this happens the potential for the hedge to flower and produce fruit is diminished and eventually, the hedge will degrade and become hollow at the base.
Hedgelaying rejuvenates the hedge, healthy hedges can offer a solution to help fight climate change as they sequester carbon both in woody growth above the ground and in their roots, leaf litter and soil below ground. In addition, hedges across slopes capture eroding soil and can increase soil organic carbon for up to 60m uphill.
Hedgerows provide refuge and corridors for wildlife to enable movement throughout the landscape and offer an important source of food for birds and small mammals.
Field mice, voles, hedgehogs, snakes and other small mammals will all benefit from the abundance of berries produced by the hedgerow trees and use this and the surrounding habitat as breeding sites. Healthy hedgerows also provide nesting sites and song posts for a wide variety of birds. The base of a hedge and it’s associated field margins, banks and ditches support a wide variety of insects including Bumblebees.
If maintaining a living hedge and the trees within the hedgerow they can remain in situ for hundreds of years and continue to offer the benefits we have discussed above.
Regional Hedgelaying styles
There are more than 30 regional styles of hedgelaying across the UK and these each use their own different techniques and styles of cutting and laying that have been developed to deal with the specific climate of the region, the types of shrubs and trees that grow in the hedge and the regional farming practises used.
This is a midland-style hedge layed by Paul Matthews.
In Devon for example the hedge is normally layed on top of a bank which forms the main barrier against livestock. See the photo here from the NHLS website. A Cornish Hedge is quite different as it is grown in subsoil between either side of a dry-stone wall.
Here in the South of England the hedge is cut and layed over to create a double brush. A single line of stakes 18″ apart in the centre of the hedge with the top bound. Both sides of the hedge are trimmed. The above hedge was also layed by Paul Matthews.
We have accredited membership for the South of England Hedgelaying Society and the National Hedgelaying Society, the latter whose current patron is his Majesty the King. Hedgelaying is a heritage craft. Each year the National Championship tests the skills levels of hedgelayers on eight of the main styles in current use, the 2022 competition is open to the general public and will be held in Wallingford, Oxford on 29th October.
2022 National Hedgelaying Championship
Clacks Farm, Clacks Lane, Wallingford, Oxfordshire OX10 8PN
Saturday 29th October 2022
9 am to 5 pm (Hedgelaying competition 9 am to 2 pm)
By kind permission of Crowmarsh Battle Farms
The National Hedgelaying Society offers training and assessment in hedgerow management and in addition to our existing (renamed) ‘Introduction to Hedgelaying Course’ we are offering a ‘Hedgelaying Skills Training Course’ to include NHS Lantra assessment for those who wish to progress their training further and obtain accreditation for our trainees too. A series of progressive practical Lantra-approved assessments provide a three‐tier system of accreditation awards in hedgelaying. The scheme is designed to ensure that hedgelayers achieve the highest standards of craftsmanship.
The new Accreditation Scheme offers both established hedgelayers and those new to the craft, the opportunity to have their skills assessed against standard criteria to attain one of the three levels of accreditation. Each level of accreditation Bronze (competent level), Silver (proficient level) and Gold (advanced level) is assessed against standards relevant to that level of skill.
If you are interested in progressing your Hedgelaying training add your name to our waitlist to join a 4-day Hedgelaying Skills Training Course’ (this can be with or without assessment included), see here to LEARN MORE.
If you are already a skilled Hedgelayer and prefer to arrange a one-to-one course then please make contact.
Core to our business is our commercial Hedgelaying services, these are subcontracted out to local authorities, organisations such as the National Trust, Surrey Wildlife Trust and private residents and landowners including local farmers to ensure a stock-proof barrier. Paul lays hedges in both the South of England and Midland style.
If you are interested in receiving a no-obligation quotation for Hedgelaying please make contact and provide information about your hedge, it’s approximate height, length and condition. Photos are helpful in the first instance usually followed by an assessment undertaken in person by Paul.
During the assessment, we will confirm if your hedge is suitable for laying, discuss its current health and advise if it should be left to grow further before undertaking hedgelaying work.