Species-rich hedges have an approved Habitat Action Plan under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, and the cultural importance of hedges is reflected in their protection under the UK Hedgerow Regulations. British hedges have been divided into eleven categories according to the dominant shrub species present. The four major types are hawthorn dominant, mixed hawthorn, mixed hazel dominant and blackthorn predominant. There are also a number of other types, such as elm and gorse hedges, some of which are specific to different areas, for example the beech hedges on banks in Devon.
Due to a number of factors such as the availability of labour and the introduction of machines to cut hedges, to name only two, hedge laying declined after the war. In the early 1970s three hedge layers had the idea of setting up a National Society before the skills of hedge laying, acquired over hundreds of years, would be lost forever. In 1997 legislation was introduced to protect hedgerows, and many miles of hedgerow are being restored under farm environment schemes. Maintenance of hedgerows has become part of good farming practice and the skills of the hedge layer are in great demand. For more information read: Link
The most common type of hedge found in Norfolk consists predominantly of hawthorn. The hedge depicted here is about 15 years old and is about to be transformed into a traditionally laid hedge. The trees growing in the hedge will be left in place.
The tools required for this task are axe, billhook, machete, handsaw and, for the thickest stems, a chainsaw.
The materials required for stabilising the newly-laid hedge are hazelnut (or willow) stakes [3a] and binders. The binders are thin stems of hazel (or willow), measuring approximately 4 metres in length [3b].
After thinning out the hedge, the bottom 30 to 50 centimetres of the stem of each shrub, depending on its thickness, is cut and sliced away lengthwise and at an angle so that only a centimetre-thin tongue of bark is left connecting the shrub with its root system. This process is called pleaching [4a]. The resulting pleacher is then pushed and/or pulled to one side. The same action is taken on all other shrubs in the hedge until all are pleached, tilted to one side and leaning in the same direction at the same height and angle [4b].
Hazel (or willow) stakes - pointed at one end by the use of the machete - are hammered into the ground right beside the pleachers at intervals of approximately 50 centimetres [5a]. The stakes help stabilising the hedge until it has had time to establish itself [5b]. They will rot away within 4 to 5 years but by that time the hedge will hold its own and no longer need support.
A bundle consisting of 4 or 5 binders is slightly twisted together and then woven in-between the stakes [6a], forming the top of the laid hedge and keeping it in place [6b]. Once the binders are in place the stakes are cut to a height exceeding that of the hedge by about 15 - 20 centimetres [6c].
Soon new shoots will soon start sprouting from the base of the pleachers, weaving their way upwards and thus stabilising and thickening the hedge. When bordering a pasture, the side of the hedge facing into the pasture is not trimmed back in order to keep away and protect it from grazing livestock.
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