Hedgelaying – Hawton Wood – March 2019

Mike Hartnell has had his woodland, Hawton Wood, Little Compton for quite a while now.  His long term aim is to develop it for educational purposes.  A keen group of volunteers gathered on Saturday 9th March to either experience hedgelaying for the first time or to expand their abilities.

Key, of course, to success in whatever field (no pun intended!) is preparation.  The site needs to be in good order, so firstly it is necessary to clear tussocks and weeds from round hedging plants – in this case, hawthorn and a lesser mix of other suitable species – and remove the protective guards which had been needed to help them establish.  Even the prickly ones seem to taste good to deer.

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To save time, Mike had pre-cut a supply of stakes, the robust verticals which allow a laid hedge its strength. Anyone who has struggled to put a single stake in to support a tree etc knows it can be quite an effort, especially if you only have a mallet, lump hammer or similar and are reaching up.  Enter the hedger’s friend.  Does it have a name?  Not sure, but the long metal tube with handles, whilst quite heavy, when wielded with a downward thumppp! does a pretty good job.

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With some stakes in place, each about 18- 20 inches apart (as a guide, you place your elbow against the last one with your arm straight out following the line of the hedge and your finger tips indicate the placing of the next one).

Now to the part which novices are often cautious about, using a billhook or axe to slice into the hedging stock to allow it to be pushed over at an angle.  It is so easy to either be overcautious, so that a big chunky stem is left which can’t bend; or to go so fine that, well, it lives no longer.  But it is surprising how little I lifeline they can be left with and still not only survive, but thrive.

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By lunchtime it seemed like we couldn’t finish the length of hedge which would take us conveniently to the gate into the adjoining field.  However hot soup and plenty of cake  spurred everyone on.  And of course, with practice came an increase in productivity.

With one group working on the remaining section of laying, another was able to get going with the hazel binders, or heatherings.  With these starting off quite stoutly before thinning out to the whippy ends, it can take some strength – and care – to bend them into the top of the hedge, overlapping the previous ones.

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Running out of these, a keen trio headed off to the field boundary to cut further supplies to finish the last few metres.  After that, the back of a billhook or axe can be used to tap down the top to give a neat level line and the tops of the stakes can be trimmed on a slant to help water run off.  All that remains is to stand back and admire your efforts.  Oh… and have your photo taken!

Well done all.  Don’t let your experience go to waste.  Lay another hedge soon.

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