Traditional hedgelaying – an artform that you can perfect

We’ve had a very busy winter, spring and summer on our nature reserves this year but fortunately, we haven’t had to suffer the challenges of the previous wet winter which seriously affected our woodland management work. Across our nature reserves, staff, contractors and an enthusiastic army of highly dedicated volunteers have been busy coppicing, cutting coupes and managing hedgerows ready for the year ahead.

One particularly notable winter activity you may have seen evidence of recently is hedge laying, a prominent example of which can still be seen along the roadside boundary at Brandon Marsh.

Traditional hedge laying encourages healthy regrowth and often results in the reappearance of wild flowers such as these bluebells along Brandon Lane near the entrance to Brandon Marsh Nature Centre. 1. Binders used to tie the top of the hedge together for a neat finish. 2., 3. and 4. stakes used to support the newly laid hedge. Copyright Karl Curtis
Traditional hedge laying encourages healthy regrowth and often results in the reappearance of wild flowers such as these bluebells along Brandon Lane near the entrance to Brandon Marsh Nature Centre. 1. Binders used to tie the top of the hedge together for a neat finish. 2., 3. and 4. stakes used to support the newly laid hedge. Copyright Karl Curtis

This traditional technique, generally undertaken during the winter months to avoid disturbance to nesting birds, was originally employed to make field boundaries stock proof. A laid hedge, where the hedgerow trees are almost cut through at the base, which leaves a hinge that allows the tree to be “laid” diagonally, encourages profuse regrowth resulting in a rich thick hedgerow. We utilise the products of our woodland management at other nature reserves where we harvest coppiced hazel poles used for stakes to support the newly laid hedge. We also harvest long whippy newer growth for use as binders which ties in along the top of the hedge.

Volunteers hedgelaying. Copyright WWT
Volunteers hedgelaying. Copyright WWT
Volunteers hedgelaying - copyright WWT
Volunteers hedgelaying – copyright WWT
Volunteers hedgelaying. Copyright WWT
Volunteers hedgelaying. Copyright WWT

Laid by our trained volunteers, not only do these look aesthetically pleasing, certainly compared to a mechanically flailed hedge, they are often completed in short sections over a period of several years providing the age and structural diversity required by many species of insect. You often find a re-emergence of wild flower species that have laid dormant, often for many years, at the base of newly laid hedgerows providing a vital nectar source for pollinators.

Greater Stitchwort, also know as Addersmeat, (Stellaria holostea) is one of many species of wild flower that reappear once light can reach the base of a hedgerow following hedge laying. Copyright Steven Cheshire 2015.
Greater Stitchwort, also know as Addersmeat, (Stellaria holostea) is one of many species of wild flower that reappear once light can reach the base of a hedgerow following hedge laying. Copyright Steven Cheshire 2015.

Other reserves where you can see excellent examples of laid hedges include Cock Robin Wood in Rugby or Hampton Wood near Barford. This winter you will see a further stretch of hedge laying appearing along Brandon Lane and at some of our other nature reserves.

Karl

This post originally featured in Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s summer members’ magazine.

Ever fancied having a go at traditional hedgelaying? Become a work party volunteer or watch out for training opportunities coming up this winter.

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