HEDGES, TREES & WOODLANDS
Hedge laying is a very old craft
(at least 5000 years old), which rejuvenates the hedge
plants, at the same time thickening the hedge for wildlife
and improving it as a stock barrier. It involves the
partial severing of the stems, as close to the ground
as possible. These stems are then bent over (in the
same direction and usually uphill - being careful not
to snap them!) at an angle of 30-40 degrees and woven
with cut vertical stakes driven in 18 inches apart along
the line of the hedge. The 'hethering' (long hazel rods
woven like a rope to bind the tops of the stakes together)
is then woven along the tops of the stakes, forming
a living hurdle. The result should be very strong and
impregnable to stock and very warm and welcoming to
songbirds and small mammals.
Hedgerow trees and saplings are retained and the opportunity
is taken to 'beat up' the hedge (fill in the gaps) with
young saplings of a wide range of native species. All
species have a natural life span and in the case of
shrubby hedgerow species this is 50-60 years.
Coppicing, like hedge laying, is an ancient system of
management which effectively enables this lifespan to
be extended indefinitely. In some very old managed woods
there are coppice 'stools' (the cut stumps from which
new re-growth appears) of Hazel which are are known
to be over 1000 years old - far longer than any Hazel
plant could live, unaided.
Coppicing can be applied to most native deciduous trees
and shrubs and requires the plant to be cut as close
to the ground as possible. This has the paradoxical
effect of completely rejuvenating the plant - in effect
giving rise to a natural clone of the mother plant.
As with hedge laying, trees and saplings are retained
and the opportunity is taken to 'beat up' the hedge
- hence most of our hedgerows now contain a much wider
range of species than the original enclosure hedges
(which were almost entirely composed of Hawthorn).
We coppice/lay our hedges on an approximately 30 year
rotation. In the intervening years we keep them healthy
by flail trimming.
One year in three, during the late winter (after the
berries have been stripped), we flail our hedges. This
keeps the hedge to a suitable size and encourages 'tillering'
(many new young shoots at the cut) which thickens the
Hawthorn only flowers (and thus fruits) on 'old' (over
a year) wood so will produce berries 2 years out of
3. Each side of the hedge is flailed on a different
3-year rotation, so our hedge should fruit on one side
or the other every year.
Our hedges provide a home and food for a huge number
of insects, birds and mammals. In most cases they mark
field and village boundaries that are thousands of years
old, and they form the single most characteristic landscape
of the English countryside.