Saturday, 23 January 2016

Pleachers, Beetles and Binders - a day spent hedge laying

The weekend started with a gorgeous sunrise.

This morning's sunrise, captured through the top of the fedge.
Sue and I had signed up for a spot of hedge laying organised by the CSSG (Cambridgeshire Self Sufficiency Group). We've done a fair bit of conservation work and woodland management in the past, but hedge laying was something new to us. Thankfully we had Mick on hand, Mick who pretty much runs the CSSG and who is an absolute mine of knowledge.

Our hedge was located a fair way away down in Haddenham in The Fairchild Meadows. The local committee and helpers from around the village were keen for someone to help them lay about 100 metres of hedge. Mick had been looking for a hedge to demonstrate on and to let us loose on for a while.

This old woman (the one on the left) was pleased to see us laying
the meadow hedge in the traditional way.
The dog is, apparently, an ex champion at Crufts.
This was it's first long walk for a few weeks as it had to be put in a kennels
as its owner had rolled her car!

Mick showed us how to cut, bend, twist and tie a ten year old hedge into a neatly laid hedge. And why would you want to do this? Originally it was mainly to keep in livestock, though these days this is more usually done with fencing. But it also rejuvenates a hedge, using its established rootstock to spark plenty of new growth from the base.

After a little pruning on the good side of the hedge, we learned that you basically perform a shocking piece of tree surgery low down on the main trunk, cutting at an angle almost all the way through until you can bend the whole tree over. The half-severed trunk is now known as a pleacher.

This part of the task was surprisingly satisfying, although the blackthorns in particular occasionally bit back!

Next part of the process was to drive in hazel stakes at 18" intervals. I hadn't realised the importance of these. They are woven together using long hazel or willow binders and provide a framework through the newly laid hedge so that it doesn't get damaged by the wind.

Then it's time for the beetle to come out. I have no idea if I heard this term quite correctly, but that's what it sounded like. It may just be a very local word. It is basically just a big bit of stick for tamping down the woven binders to secure the pleaches and brushwood.

And that's it!

We didn't quite get the whole 100 metre stretch done, but some folks are going back tomorrow, hopefully to finish it off.
What we did achieve was pretty impressive though and I can't wait for one of our young hedges to get old enough to be laid. (that sounds so wrong, but I can't think how to rephrase!)
Or I could be really brave and tackle the twenty foot high roadside hedge... or that might be a bit too ambitious.
However, I could possibly apply some of the same principles to gradually try and rejuvenate it. It would be reassuring to think that there was something beyond the rickety fence should the sheep ever decide to jump.

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