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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Look at this impressive start to a hedge!
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!