The Wonderful Countryside Weavers …

I met a group of hedge-layers at Wandlebury Ring when I visited a month ago. They were busy helping to make a patchwork quilt of the english landscape, with their woven hedges as the stitching that pulls it all together.

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The team at Wandlebury Ring applying a Midland style to their hedge-laying

 

They were a very friendly team, willing to discuss what they were up to and even radio-ed through for me to check the details for a book they would recommend on the subject (Hedging: A Practical Handbook by E. Agate & A Brooks published by the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers). It turns out that the book is like gold dust and is hard to track down. However, I’ve finally located a copy and so I am looking forward to reading about this interesting practical skill.

My grandfather used to work as a roadside navvy, keeping ditches clear and hedges tidy, but after the second world war a number of factors (man-power, mechanisation, alternatives) lead to a dramatic reduction in hedges and hedgerow maintenance. By the 1960s many hedges were beginning to turn into gappy tree-lines.

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Overgrown hawthorn hedgerow – Mick Garratt via Wikimedia Commons

Happily, since then, there’s been a resurgence of interest in the ancient art of hedge-laying.  A well managed hedgerow should be thick and bushy, an impenetrable barrier to sheep and cattle (if needed) and a haven for wildlife. Various conservation bodies including Historic England (formerly English Heritage) and the National Trust use the technique to manage and stock-proof their hedges. A number of these organisations also run public courses to pass on these skills (e.g. there’s one running today at the NT‘s Wimpole Hall).

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Regrowth in a layered hedge bordering south avenue at Wimpole Hall

Wimpole blogger Sadeik has a great selection of images and notes on the various competitions that have taken place on site as well as the styles used.

There is also National Hedge-Laying Society, which was formed in 1978 by three impassioned hedge-layers to enable their skills to be documented and passed on to others. The NHLS now operates under an umbrella Hedgelink partnership who promote the environmental importance of hedgerows, as well as their agricultural and heritage value, together with the enjoyment and inspiration they give to people.

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Criss-cross hedgelaying at Wandlebury, but no-one knew which style

Meanwhile, between the villages in Cambridgeshire many of the farmers or landowners have been cutting their hedges back before the nesting and regrowth season begins. Some have been cut/thrashed rather more elegantly than others.

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Routine, mechanised hedge trimming

Fortunately, at a local level, there are now a number of hedge and fencing companies around who can supply skilled individuals able to weave beautiful hedges. This example is at the entrance of the next village.

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Look at this impressive start to a hedge!

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So if you are interested in preserving this country craft, creating a wildlife refuge and thing of beauty, then there are many options available. I am looking forward to the arrival of my hedging book and I hope to book on the next course at Wimpole. Hopefully I will be able to cope with the sharp tools!

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About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
This entry was posted in Crafts, Nature, Trees, Wildlife and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to The Wonderful Countryside Weavers …

  1. Julie says:

    Several years ago, I went on hedge laying course Alison, I remember it to be a very satisfying day but a decent pair of gloves are definatley needed. We’ve seen some really sad hedge cutting on some of our walks lately, I always thought this was not allowed at this time of year? Over wintering, sheltering and foraging wildlife must be ripped from their homes during this ugly process. Great post and links, good luck with your course.

    • I am glad to hear that you enjoyed your hedge-laying. I was wondering whether I’d manage a whole day. Did you work together or did you have a section of your own? I read on the countryside trust website that they cut during winter until the end of Feb.

      • Julie says:

        As it was a course, we worked all morning in a group with breaks to explain and help each other, so possibly not as arduous as it might be, the afternoon was spent on planting a willow hedge/fedge, sturdy gloves needed for that too. I like the idea of working as a team on something like this as its maybe harder if on your own.

  2. Tina says:

    That’s fascinating and not something that you see here in the states. I remember the hedges that I’ve seen in Britain a number of years ago–charming and unique.

    • The number of different regional styles of laying is quite amazing and a well carried out piece of work is very beautiful. When I’ve been abroad for work, it is always lovely to look down on the patchwork fields. It is indeed charming!

  3. This is getting me thinking….I do wonder if I could create one between my property and the one next door. We have lots of deer and have created a bit of a deer fence with sticks, but a proper hedge would be much more efficient, so long as we can put a few spots along the fence where we humans can get through.

    • It is a great idea, but the hedge would need to be well established before you could lay it. The traditional stock-proof hedging used here is hawthorn or blackthorn. The muntjac deer get through our hawthorn boundary, but it is now overgrown like the picture in the post. Hedges make wonderful wildlife corridors and refuges for the smaller mammals and birds. 🙂

  4. Brilliant post, thank you. It’s a fascinating rural craft and the hedges look great in country gardens too. The different local or regional styles are interesting, aren’t they?

    • Thanks. Even Cambridge Botanical Gardens have their own example of hedge-laying near the Gilmore building. The differences in styles can be quite remarkable and there is considerable thought that goes into how the remaining hedge is pruned and woven, depending on where you want the prickles, i.e whether there will be animals on both sides or not.

  5. Christina says:

    Good luck, I look forward to seeing your new hedged!

  6. What a great rural skill and thankfully it’s being celebrated and maintained. I once saw a TV programme where Prince Charles was learning about the technique. I was unaware of it till then but now I notice when hedges have been laid well, Gardeners’ World visited Sissinghurst two episodes ago and showed an immaculate one.

    • It is a shame that I missed that. Maybe I’ll try iPlayer. When the practitioner is neat and all the uprights are aligned etc. they really are works of art. I am glad to see so much of it going on.

  7. pbmgarden says:

    Fascinating! I admire craftsmanship and skill this requires.

  8. Gillian says:

    It always amazes me that those hedges that seem to treated so badly actually do recover. They may not be as elegant as some but I must admit that if I was a farmer with miles of boundaries I’d probably use machinery to do the job as quickly as possible too!

    • I know that they do recover, but it makes me cross that they haven’t used the right tools for the job when you see such tearing, but I agree that laying isn’t going to work for the miles of hedging out there. I am pleased that the practice is still being taught though and that it is actively used where it can be by the conservation organisations.

  9. inesephoto says:

    Brilliant post! It is wonderful to know that hedge-layers are back to work. Hedge cutting in spring makes me angry and sad, especially when it is done like in one of your photographs. I know it will grow back, I just don’t like the attitude. Hundreds of hedges get trimmed using machinery, but most of them look much less mutilated, and it is too late to trim the hedges when the birds start nesting.

  10. Graham Teece says:

    Just seen your blog. Take a look at how we lay in Stafford, Good luck with your hedging. http://grahamteecehedgelaying.com/

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