National Hedgelaying Society
"Committed to conserving hedgerows through traditional skills"
laying declined after the 1939 -1945 war due to many factors such as
the availability of labour, the introduction of machines to cut hedges,
wire fences and changes in agriculture that placed emphasis on
production. By the 1960's hedges were declining at an alarming rate.
Lack of maintenance meant that hedges became tall and gappy with
nothing at the bottom; in effect a line of trees. Many hedges were
grubbed out to make larger fields that could be more efficiently
managed by larger machinery. In the early 1970's three hedge layers Mr
Fred Whitefoot, Mr Clive Matthew, and Miss Valerie Greaves realised
that soon the valuable skills of hedgerow management that had been
acquired over hundreds of years would be lost forever. These founder
members conceived the idea of setting up a National Society to enable
the skills to be documented, and passed on to others. Competitions were
organised all over the country. A National Competition is now an annual
event. The Society has over 500 members; some are professional
contractors whilst others practice hedge laying as a hobby, helping out
History of the Society
Regional Styles of Hedgelaying
Why are hedges laid?
Laying hedges is just one of the techniques in managing hedgerows. Other techniques include "Trimming" and "Coppicing" (Cutting off at ground level to encourage the hedge to regenerate). Left unmanaged a hedgerow will continue to grow upwards and outwards and will eventually become a line of trees. Where farmers keep cattle or sheep a good hedge is essential, for although barbed wire fences can easily be erected they do not provide shelter like a hedge. Hedges are also important for our wildlife and for their scenic value. A well-managed hedgerow is thick and bushy, an impenetrable barrier to sheep and cattle and a haven for wildlife. Cattle will lean against a hedge and make gaps whilst Sheep push through the base, hedge laying prevents this. The cut stems, which are bent over at an angle, prevent the sheep pushing through the stakes driven into the hedge and the binding along the top makes the fence strong to resist the weight of cattle. Laying the hedge also tidies it up and encourages the shrubs to regenerate keeping the hedge bushy and healthy. Once a hedge has been laid regular trimming will keep it in good order for up to 50 years when it may be appropriate to lay the hedge again, or even coppice it.
Why are there different styles? There are different styles of hedge laying in different parts of the UK. Each style has been developed over many years to cope with the climate of the area, different farming practices and the type of trees and shrubs that grow in the hedge. There are more than thirty styles recorded in the UK plus others in France, Germany and Holland. Each year the National Championship tests the skills of the hedge layer on eight of the main styles in current use. The following are brief descriptions and details may vary even within the same region.
Farms with large animals, e.g. cattle and horses need hedges able to withstand the weight of the animal pushing against them, styles such as the Sussex Bullock and Midland Bullock were developed for this purpose. With a finished height of 4ft 6 Ins, the stakes are driven into the ground 18 Inches apart behind the stool (stem) line towards the brush (bushy) side. Hazel binders are woven along the top to give maximum strength. The livestock would be in the field behind the brush side of the hedge with a crop on the other side (face or plough side).
Welsh Border. This is a double brush hedge with stakes driven in at 35-degree slant, 30" apart. Dead wood is used in the hedge to protect the regrowth from being browsed by stock. The dead wood and live layers are bound down the centre line, with top and side of hedge being trimmed.
The brush (bushy growth) is placed to the livestock side. Sawn timber stakes are used 24" to 30" apart. A strong, stock proof hedge is built by weaving the laid stems (Pleaches) in front and behind the stakes - no binders are needed. Finished height of the hedge is 3' 6" - 4'.
South of England.
This hedge is cut and laid 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.
Lancashire & Westmorland.
The hedges needed to be well maintained for both cattle and sheep. Stakes are placed about 18ins apart on alternate sides of the hedge with the pleachers (stems) laid between at approx 45 degrees. The pleachers are woven around the stakes and the hedge finished to a height of at least 3ft 6ins the hedge is square cut.
If the crop rotation is of an arable bias, as in parts of Yorkshire a very thin hedge may be laid as no stock would be held in fields against the hedge for up to five years, this gives the laid hedge time to regenerate before the threat of grazing off by stock. This hedge is used in sheep/arable rotation, with arable rotation being used when the hedge is first laid. The hedge is cut close to the ground with plenty of thickness of material in the bottom. Sawn stakes and rails are used to finish the hedge.
This hedge is normally laid on top of a bank (which normally forms the main barrier against livestock) the densely packed brush designed to keep sheep and lambs secure. This style uses crooked hazel sticks to secure hedge and binders.
A row of Stakes placed alternately on either side of the hedge holds the stems in place with some being woven around the stakes.
The Society publishes a book "Hedge Laying Explained" which gives details of many of the different styles and techniques used in laying. A Video/DVD is also available showing some of the styles and techniques, explained by the craftsman who lay them. We also operate an "Accreditation" scheme to ensure that commercial hedgelayers are able to match the levels of skill required to be called "Craftsman".